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The Evolution of a PhD

The Evolution of a PhD

Image from PhD comics which, if you haven't read it before, is an excellent source of procrastination!

So it's been nearly a year since my upgrade interview for the PhD after which I made some ambitious New Academic Year Resolutions.

This past year has both gone very slowly and very quickly: a lot has happened but I also can't quite believe that I'm entering the third year of my PhD. At our university, we have to have an annual review of our progress where we hand in a piece of writing (usually a chapter or section), a progress review, bibliography and updated thesis plan. It was when I started to do my thesis plan that I realised just how much my PhD has changed this year!

We were always told to expect our topics to change over the course of the PhD, and indeed, that this was a positive and natural thing to happen but I hadn't realised until I revisited that plan I made over a year ago how much things had moved on.

I did have an inkling that my work had changed. After all, I've done enough chapter plans and writing this year to see a fuller argument develop and even subtly tweaked my PhD title at one point. (It is now about 'young' readers rather than 'child' readers) to take account of the fact that some of the young men I study probably can't be counted as children ('teenager' is too anachronistic a term for my period but they are aged between 9 and 18 so 'young readers' it is!).

However, when I sat down with last year's plan expecting to tweak the odd sentence and chapter here or there I realised just how much had changed and how much clearer I feel about where I want the topic and argument to go.

A few months ago, I started to try to storyboard my PhD, having read this article. When I started the storyboard task it was because I wasn't really sure where the whole PhD was going, I was really immersed in a single chapter and, particularly because my PhD focuses on case studies, it was difficult to see the big picture. I soon got caught up in other more pressing matters (conferences, research trips and actually writing!) and abandoned my storyboard. But having made an updated traditional plan, I decided to go back to the task when I had a bit of spare time between handing in the work for my APR and the interview itself.

I've recently started tutoring learning strategies for undergraduate students, including some who are working on their final year dissertations and so I'm more curious than ever about different techniques for managing big projects like this.

What I'm really trying to say is if you're still in first year without a really clear idea of where the PhD is going, don't worry too much - no one is going to force you to commit to your first plans! And if you're in the middle of trying to find your way to the other side of a topic that seems to be in a constant state of flux, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes just looking back at where you were a year ago is enough to remind you of how far you've come and how much more is still there for you to discover.

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