Planning Your (Ideal) PhD

  1. This is not prescriptive, just an idea from a guy who did a PhD and helps PhD students and graduates.
  2. Australia has a PhD program that is largely devoid of coursework.
  3. PhDs are largely limited to 3 years (fulltime equivalent, FTE) with some possibility of going to 4 years (FTE). But anything longer is increasingly unlikely.
  4. PhDs in Australia are funded positions for most candidates. This means there are zero tuition costs. Some programs come with stipends (tax free income for students). Some programs might include funding for research, but in most cases the larger group or team you are part of will be expected to fund the costs of research or candidates will have to find funding.
  • Literature review.
  • Developing research skills fundamental to on-going data collection, analysis, and reporting. E.g., learning and practicing the skills required to collect data, record experiments, store samples, manage your databases, write reports, analyse data, make inferences about what experiments to perform next, problem solve experimental design and conduct.
  • Data collection for your research. Probably aim 1. But could be any part of your project.
  • Large part of data collection for all aims. Either consecutively or simultaneously.
  • Writing up your experiments in such a way that enables easy final write up in your thesis or a publication.
  • Drafting your thesis.
  • Final touches on data collection, analysis, and reporting.
  • Writing your thesis.
  • Writing your thesis.
  • 10 weeks data collection, collation, and recording (in your research notebook).
  • 1–2 days reviewing the last 10 weeks.
  • 1–2 days planning the next 10 weeks.
  • 1 week writing things up in more detail. Making data/reports look pretty, expressed scientifically; contextualised/placed within the literature; creating a relevant slide for a presentation.
  • 1–2 days off (in addition to the weekend).
  • Reflect on what days you work well, and what days are poor for you. For example, I play soccer on Sundays. So, I am usually physically drained Mondays. I try to avoid detailed thinking tasks Mondays. Generally, I get a good night’s sleep Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, I tend to get lots done Wednesdays and Fridays. Those days I tend to schedule the thinking work as well as the client/customer outreach.
  • What is your teaching schedule?
  • When are you expected to attend regular meetings (e.g., team meetings, supervisory meetings, departmental, seminars, etc.).
  • Definitely take two days off every seven — i.e., have a weekend.
  • Definitely limit your daily work to set times as much as possible. That might mean 9–5 Monday to Friday. Or it could be 8–6 Monday to Friday. Or even 10–7 Tuesday to Saturday. Or perhaps 9–6 Monday to Wednesday, and 10–7 Friday and Saturday. Communicate that intent to your supervisor, especially if the hours are not something that looks like 9–5 Monday to Friday.




I’m a careers coach. I help people with PhDs or getting their PhDs answer the question — What next? This is a research strategy question as much as a jobs one.

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Dr. Richard Huysmans

Dr. Richard Huysmans

I’m a careers coach. I help people with PhDs or getting their PhDs answer the question — What next? This is a research strategy question as much as a jobs one.

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