Science and Technology

Rules for PhD Research

Unwritten rule for PhD Research


The highest level of education that exists is the PhD. While it can be frustrating and tiring, your dissertation, which is your final result is a very rewarding thing for you and a major achievement in your life. With a zeal to help PhD students with their thesis, the duo of Dr. Gordon Rugg and Dr. Marian Petre wrote the book – The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. This is a no-holds-barred look about what you as an individual needs to know when it comes to PhD research. The tone of the book is witty from the start so that you will smile as you learn the important messages it passes across. In the book, doctoral thesis is seen as a respected work of art, one that you learned from your master as an apprentice. This means that when you present your thesis research, you should present it as someone who has thoroughly learned all about your subject and done all the necessary research on it.

Carrying out a PhD research is a huge undertaking and it is not at all like an undergraduate degree where you are only expected to write some essays and pass some exams. For you to be awarded a PhD, you need to prove that you are a competent researcher. That is why an area of emphasis in the book is the on the aspect of reading. In the life of any researcher, reading is an important part as that will help him assimilate all the information necessary for his research work. According to the authors, your major working knowledge as a researcher is about 50-100 pages gotten from the materials you read obviously.

The book is a complete manual that can help you to be a truly independent researcher.The authors has a table (table 2) which showed the transition of a student from the stage of entering to the stage of completing his work. When the student enters, he surveys, he collects and he reports the information. From there he is ready to know what isn‘t known and from there judges the collected information. There are many topics in the book like supervision, independent research, writing, reading the literature, the viva, presentation and some topics such as the importance of building an active contact list for networking.

In the Unwritten rules of phd research, you can find the various papers that can be written for a PhD research. They are demonstration of concept papers, data-driven papers, review papers, tutorial papers, theoretical papers, method-mongering papers and consciousness-raising papers. There are many information and explanations of each type of research paper in the book. The writers recognised the flaws or mistakes you can make in your research which might hurt you later. There are some checklist in the book that a new researcher can use to avoid making these mistakes.

Dr. Rugg and Dr. Petre laid a lot emphasis on the need to gather information from people around you. This is due to the big differences in the researches of different disciplines. They gave a major rule while doing this, that is to maintain the image of a hard working individual rather than a lazy fellow. The authors also gave three golden rules of public speaking which can be very helpful to you when it time to present your thesis. Number one is don’t lie, two is don’t try to be funny and three is don’t panic and blurt out the truth. There are detailed explanations about these three rules in the book and it is worthy of reading. There is also a chapter on writing, with a bulleted list of great advice for writing your thesis. The same goes for the other short chapters where there are much tables and lists of things you should do and those you should not do.

The book is highly recommended for current and intending PhD students, as it will help you get good advice on reading, writing and presenting your thesis. After going through the book you will realise that there are more to research than the usual find a problem, work on it, get a result and communicate your findings. This book will open your eyes to the world of academia and show you what you really should be doing to become a great researcher.


Research work could take the most unexpected twist and turn. It is a nerve-racking experience. Usually, if approached in a haphazard manner, valuable time could be lost.

In big research corporations, each researcher has a set of responsibilities and area of focus, this might help and aid timely completion of research work. However, in personal or unstructured research work, these tips on time management is life-saving. Without any bias to any form of research, these tips are generally applicable.


1. Read up! This is the first thing to do to ensure completion of research in the quickest possible timeframe. There is no end to the amount of underground pre-knowledge on any research work to be embarked upon. This will help guide in decision-making during the research.

2. Quite naturally, the first is to make a plan or strategy from the onset. This has been rehashed numerous times. But the key to the plan or strategy working out eventually is doing the right research project that you have the capacity, innate or available, to complete the research, on time! List all possible requirements; equipments and expertise, risks involved, financial commitment, raw materials, ambience et al and have them in place or at least in consideration.

3. Define the scope. This cannot be over-emphasized; researches could expand beyond the ends of the world. Before going further, a possible scope should be in mind. This should be after the underground work. The key is sticking to your guns, except in experimental research where the results could decide the next action.

4. Break actions into smaller units and understand in details each division. Place value on each division. Placing value would have to be in consonance with your supervisor’s interest and guidance.

5. Prioritise the activities based on their value and happenings in the course of the research. Off all divisions, some would have a higher value, so prioritize on that.

6. Have a life cycle for each of the value. Let the tasks be accomplishable in bits. Each having a time bound. Specifically seek to accomplish them within specific milestones with reminders of the task schedule.

For example, instead of saying: ‘Monday to Wednesday, project chapter one,’ you could divide it in tad bits. Firstly, getting the underground data or theory; then dividing the chapter into sections; writing the first draft without editing – uninterrupted, straight from memory; then editing after writing, paragraph by paragraph; then using plagiarism checker, grammatical errors checker, spell checker et al before submitting to your supervisor for possible corrections. If there are, then finish up as required.

The break into phases like this helps you achieve specifics. If time is used up like this, it is more effective than having a larger task spread over a certain period; it might take a longer period, then messing up the initial plan or if shorter, the extra time could be spent less effectively than achieving the scheduled bit of work.

7. Put in place a support system. It could be a higher personality you report to or discuss with. This helps your psyche, as you’d have to meet expectations and/or impress, helping you tap into the deepest part of your creativity. If you attach huge importance to this, you’d likely want to sit up more to your responsibilities.

8. Being online for theory could waste time, get what you think you might need, shut yourself out and just work. When you are deficient on some part after everything, go back and fill it up. It could be very distracting to get the required while online at the same time. Social media is another leech.

It is advisable you have a working period and flexible time. On your working period, ruthlessly protect your personal time. Don’t easily give in to non-relevant activities. These could distract work and extend the time to complete any phase of your research work.

9. Plan base on happenings, consider power and all other infrastructures you might require for your work. For example, as a student using the laboratory of your school, there would be times when power would be more stable or when the laboratory would be less in use, plan in that regard to avoid been stranded or waiting in turn. Optimize available time basically, depending on the situation at any point in time.

10. Seeking perfection is one of the biggest thief of time. Editing and fine-tuning on end. After a certain point, its best you declare victory and move on, especially when you exceed the time bound and you close in on the picture in mind.


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