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«The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research Gordon Rugg Marian Petre THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF PHD RESEARCH THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF PHD RESEARCH Gordon Rugg and ...»

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The Unwritten

Rules of

PhD Research

Gordon Rugg

Marian Petre

THE UNWRITTEN RULES

OF PHD RESEARCH

THE UNWRITTEN RULES

OF PHD RESEARCH

Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre

Open University Press

Open University Press

McGraw-Hill Education

McGraw-Hill House

Shoppenhangers Road

Maidenhead

Berkshire

England

SL6 2QL

email: enquiries@openup.co.uk worldwide web: www.openup.co.uk and Two Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121–2289, USA First published 2004 Copyright © Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre 2004 All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any for, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency Limited. Details of such licences (for reprographic reproduction) may be obtained from the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd of 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 4LP.

A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library ISBN 0 335 21344 8 (pb) 0 335 21345 6 (hb) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data CIP data applied for Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk Printed in the UK by Bell & Bain Ltd, Glasgow Contents Preface vii Quotations and their sources viii About this book xii Acknowledgements xvi 1 So you want to do a PhD? 1 2 Procedures and milestones 13 3 The System 19 4 Supervision 32 5 Networks 46 6 Reading 54 7 Paper types 79 8 Writing 84 9 Writing structure 95 10 Writing style 108 11 The process of writing 125 vi CONTENTS 12 Presentations 134 13 Research design 146 14 The viva 161 15 Conferences 182 16 What next? 191 Useful principles and the like 214 Some useful terms 217 Some further reading 222

Preface

One of the most frequent laments of the postgraduate researcher is: ‘Why didn’t someone tell me that earlier?’ There are innumerable things which nobody bothered to tell you, or to write in the books, and which could have saved you from large amounts of confusion, depression, wasted effort and general tears and misery if only you had been told them earlier.

The authors have spent more than their fair share of time with desperate beginners, explaining the basic principles of research over cups of coffee.

This book is an attempt to cut down their caffeine overload. It explains the basic craft skills and ground rules of the academic world in general, and research in particular. Its focus is the vitally important things that the standard textbooks don’t bother to mention on the sweet assumption that they can be left to the readers’ lecturers and supervisors.

If you are doing a PhD or an MPhil then this book is intended to help you to do the best research possible with the minimum of wasted effort. It is also intended to help you use your research as part of your career development and self-development so that you don’t end up on graduation day, certificate in hand, wondering just what the hell to do next and realizing that you’ve just spent several years moving painfully in the wrong direction.

The authors’ backgrounds are varied. Their academic credentials include PhDs, publication of various journal papers and encyclopaedia articles, advanced research fellowships, a couple of journal editorships, refereeing for major journals and fund-giving bodies, and raising between them over a million pounds of research funding. Their students still talk to them, and sometimes say nice things about them.

Quotations and their sources One of the advantages of being a PhD supervisor is being able to dazzle students with erudite-sounding quotes, without having to give a verifiable reference so that the students can check whether you’ve simply invented them.

One of the disadvantages of writing a book about PhDs is that if you want to dazzle the readers with erudite-sounding quotes, you have to give proper veriable references. So, just in case you’ve been wondering whether we made up the quotes in this book, here are the references to set your mind at rest.

Opening sections:

... I had said much, but found that my words had been given scant attention.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1917) Dagon in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 17... it were insidious to particularize; but I must acknowledge the politeness of Mons.

La Hire, of the royal French artillery, who volunteered his services in setting and firing the train to the magazine, and who was somewhat bruised and singed.

O’Brian, P. (1990) Master and Commander W.W. Norton & Company, London. p. 225

Chapter 1:

You can’t imagine, even from what you have read and what I’ve told you, the things I shall have to see and do. It’s fiendish work, Carter, and I doubt if any man without ironclad sensibilities could ever see it through and come up alive and sane.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1919) The Statement of Randolph Carter in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 1: At the Mountains of Madness (1989) Grafton Books, London. p. 356

QUOTATIONS AND THEIR SOURCES ix





Chapter 2:

... take this woman out of Bren-paidhi’s way, or face administrative procedures.

Cherryh, C.J. (1996). Invader Legend Books, London, p.16

Chapter 3:

It was here that he first came into conflict with the authorities, and was debarred from future experiments by no less a dignitary than the dean of the medical school himself...

Lovecraft, H.P. (1921–1922) Herbert West- Reanimator in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 159

Chapter 4:

Could that fellow have me whipped?

O’Brian, P. (1990) Master and Commander W.W. Norton & Company, London. p. 122

Chapter 5:

The first horrible incident of our acquaintance was the greatest shock I ever experienced, and it is only with reluctance that I repeat it.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1921–1922) Herbert West- Reanimator in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 158

Chapter 6:

... those frightful parts of the Pnakotic Manuscripts which were too ancient to be read.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1921) The Other Gods in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 149

Chapter 7:

Alien it indeed was to all art and literature which sane and balanced readers know...

Lovecraft, H.P. (1922) The Hound in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 200

Chapter 8:

He wrote in a complicated style, overloaded and lacking in charm. Not that he was indifferent to language and its nuances; on the contrary, correct use of language was for him a moral question, its debasement a symptom of moral breakdown.

Thucydides, Warner, R. & Finley, M.I. (1954). History of the Peloponnesian War Penguin, Harmondsworth, p.9.

x QUOTATIONS AND THEIR SOURCES

... I shall publish such papers on the cryptogams of Kamschatka that no one will ever set the mark of intelligence upon my head again.

O’Brian, P. (1996) HMS Surprise HarperCollins, London. p. 27

Chapter 9:

Still, it gave the facts – some of them – and apart from being dated ‘off Barcelona’ in the customary way, whereas it was really being written in Port Mahon the day after his arrival, it contained no falsehood...

O’Brian, P. (1990) Master and Commander W.W. Norton & Company, London. p. 335

Chapter 10:

Its tone of semi-literate, official, righteous dullness never varied... and it never deviated into human prose...

O’Brian, P. (1990) Master and Commander W.W. Norton & Company, London. p. 152

Chapter 11:

‘Now just listen to this one, will you,’ he said, ‘and tell me whether it is good grammar and proper language.’ O’Brian, P. (1990) Master and Commander W.W. Norton & Company, London. p. 225

Chapter 12:

My formerly silent tongue waxed voluble with the easy grace of a Chesterfield or the godless cynicism of a Rochester. I displayed a peculiar erudition utterly unlike the fantastic, monkish lore over which I had pored in my youth...

Lovecraft, H.P. (1917) The Tomb in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 25

Chapter 13:

I have brought to light a monstrous abnormality, but I did it for the sake of knowledge.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1943) The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 1: At the Mountains of Madness (1989) Grafton Books, London. p. 236

Chapter 14:

Once I sought out a celebrated ethnologist and amused him with peculiar questions regarding the ancient Philistine legend of Dagon, the Fish-God; but soon perceiving that he was hopelessly conventional, I did not press my inquiries.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1917) Dagon in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 17

QUOTATIONS AND THEIR SOURCES xi

Chapter 15:

When I drew nigh the nameless city, I knew it was accursed.

Lovecraft, H.P. (1921) The Nameless City in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 129

Chapter 16:

This terror is not due altogether to the sinister nature of his recent disappearance, but was engendered by the whole nature of his life-work...

Lovecraft, H.P. (1921–1922) Herbert West- Reanimator in: Lovecraft, H.P. Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1985) Grafton Books, London. p. 158

Useful terms:

I know just where the sea-elephants are stored O’Brian, P. (1996) The Fortune of War HarperCollins, London. p. 225 Only yesterday I learnt, to my surprise, that you trice puddings athwart the starboard gumbrils, when sailing by and large.

O’Brian, P. (1997) The Ionian Mission HarperCollins, London. p. 83

Further reading:

... he was no more consistent than other men, and in spite of his liberal principles and his dislike of constituted authority he was capable of petulant tyranny when confronted with a slime-draught early in the morning.

O’Brian, P. (1997) The Ionian Mission HarperCollins, London. pp. 70–71 About this book What it is, what it’s not, and how to make best use of it... I had said much, but found that my words had been given scant attention.

We’ve spent a lot of time helping PhD students with problems, and advising potential PhD students who want to avoid problems. Most of these people have read books with titles like How to get a PhD; most of them have been given good advice by supervisors and potential supervisors. The problems don’t come from the books and the advice – most of the books on this topic range between good and excellent, and most of the advice we’ve heard reported to us has been sound. The problems usually come from what’s absent from the books and the advice. This book is intended to fill at least part of that gap.

Most of the problems we’ve dealt with involve what’s known as tacit knowledge in the broad sense – things that nobody bothers to tell you explicitly, either because they assume you know them already, or because they are so familiar to them that they completely forget that other people don’t know them, or because they don’t think they are worth mentioning. Book writers usually assume (correctly, in our opinion) that these things are better dealt with informally by supervisors. In an ideal world, this would happen, but in practice supervisors are human (i.e. overworked, forgetful, distracted and imperfect). What we’ve done is to write down an overview of these unwritten rules, so that the situation makes more sense to you. You can then ask your supervisor about how things work in your discipline, and (with luck) get some solid, specific guidance.

For PhD students, the main problems in our experience fall into two main categories. One is ‘big picture’ knowledge about how the academic system works, and why it works that way. For instance, what are some classic career ABOUT THIS BOOK xiii paths in academia? Why is academic writing so dry? Why do some people get lectureships in good departments before they’ve finished their PhD, whereas others are still struggling to find any job ten years after their doctorate?

What counts as a ‘good’ department anyway, and why? Many students are too embarrassed to show their ignorance by asking questions like these; more students are too focused on the immediate problems of the PhD to think of asking them until it’s too late.

The second category involves what are known as ‘craft skills’. These are usually low-level skills, normally viewed as not sufficiently important to be worth mentioning in textbooks – tricks of the trade which are usually taught informally by supervisors or other mentors. These range from quite specific information (e.g. ‘How many references should I have in the first paragraph of something I write?’) to quite general rules of thumb (e.g. ‘How can I get a reasonable brief overview of this topic that my supervisor’s advised me to read about, without spending six months wading through the literature?’) The specific skills, and the specific answers, vary across disciplines; however, once you are aware of the basic concept of craft skills, you can then find out what the craft skills are in your chosen area, and learn them.

Each section of this book deals with an area of tacit knowledge which is important to PhD students. Some fairly specific topics, such as how to handle criticism, are relevant in more than one place (for instance, handling criticism is relevant to writing, to presentations and to the viva). Some more general topics, such as writing, manifest themselves in different ways at different stages of your PhD (which is why this book is structured around topics, rather than in chronological order of what will happen to you in your PhD). Each section begins with a description of the topic, and is illustrated with examples and anecdotes. Where an anecdote is dubious or apocryphal, we’ve said so;

the others, including the bucket dropped on one author’s head, are true, even when improbable. These verbal descriptions are intended to help you understand what the issues are, and why things are the way they are; the anecdotes are there to illustrate the underlying points and to help you remember them.

Understanding is all very well, but isn’t much consolation when it’s the day before your first seminar presentation and you’re worried about whether there’s something blindingly obvious that you’ve forgotten. We’ve therefore included a fair number of checklists, bullet points and the like, so that you can check that you’ve remembered the key things.



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