09 How Much Time Do You Have?

Now we need to think about how much time you have left to complete your PhD, and this might be a sobering exercise. Time is our most valuable resource, and we have to watch it very carefully to make sure that we're hitting those milestones and meeting that big deadline at the end.

Here's what we're going to cover:

working backwards from that deadline to make sure you've got enough time for everything.

Identifying what's left to do.

And dealing with those other responsibilities that might get in the way of your PhD.

You might've come across a website called iThinkwell that includes a wealth of valuable resources for PhD researchers. One of the most valuable is this planner. There are planners available for your entire PhD, and this particular one maps out the final year. These are actually PowerPoint slides and you can move the shapes around and relabel them so you can work out all the different activities and also include your milestones.

When we're planning in our heads, everything somehow works and we're able to defy the laws of physics, but if we have to get it down on a physical plan, that forces us to be much more realistic.

Let's consider what's left for you to do. You might still have some research to finish.

Undoubtedly some writing, maybe you haven't even started writing yet.

You'll need to get some feedback on those drafts before you start editing, and editing can be a massive job going through and revising your entire project and making it work together.

Then there's the proofreading; going through that final draft and checking all the tiny details.

Then you have to do the formatting to make sure it fits the requirements of your university and it's ready for submission.

All of these areas need to be represented in that plan.

And there are other activities too. So you might have work or teaching commitments. Are they going to increase in the final year or months of your PhD? Do you have family responsibilities that are going to take up your time? Are you planning a big holiday or is your supervisor going to be away? Academics seldom admit to going holiday. Usually it's a research trip, but if they're going to be away for a few weeks, they won't be able to give you feedback on your writing. So that might need to be accounted for in that plan. You might have some planned downtime or maybe some unexpected downtime if you're ill or a family member is unwell.

So there should be some contingency in that plan and you are of course going to need a rest at some point as well.

There will be significant deadlines throughout too. So make sure you've got your annual review in there, for instance, because at these points, sometimes we have to produce a significant piece of work or other evidence of progress.

And perhaps you're planning to present conference papers or publish journal articles. These activities also take time and they might get in the way of your deadline, so consider whether they're important to you now, or could they wait until afterwards? Writing a journal article and getting it through peer review might add three months onto your PhD program.

To summarize, make sure you can fit everything into your plan, because if it doesn't fit, you're going to have to reassess your priorities.

Maybe that could involve reconsidering the scope of your thesis. Perhaps you're trying to do too much. If you've got lots of additional ideas you want to explore, perhaps they could become journal articles or part of your monograph afterwards. Set some limits on what you're trying to achieve; we're just doing enough to get through the examination process.

If this really isn't going to work out then it could be time to discuss an extension. It's better to do this as soon as possible, because you don't want to be trying to fathom your university's regulations when you're already stressed and right up against that deadline. So talk to somebody now to see what the possibilities are. And maybe there's no flexibility if you're a funded student, for instance. So that's going to force you to reconsider the thesis scope and maybe looking at your other responsibilities.