scoping your PhD project


“I bumped into one of my professors and summarised my thesis topic for him…. When I stopped talking, he smiled wryly and said, “Well, you certainly have your work cut out for you.” As we parted, I thought to myself: “He’s right. This is insane. I will never be able to do all of this …. PhD students tend to set overly ambitious parameters for their research, mistakenly thinking that their thesis has to be a monumental contribution to knowledge.”  REFERENCE

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To start with you may not have a clear scope and only have general and aims and objectives and that is Ok. These will need be rewritten several times so that it becomes a more detailed research proposal as your ideas take shape. It is important to clearly document your PhD scope so that you can remain focused and avoid keep changing it every time you speak to other researchers or your supervisor. (Please note that, depending on your Faculty, the arrangement with your supervisor for your project scope can vary, from them defining it for you, to you entirely designing it yourself.)

Documenting the scope of a project will clearly set out what is to be delivered and any restrictions involved. There may be stakeholders involved and having clarity yourself can help to define and agree the expected outcomes at the outset that will help the project to be successful and avoid problems later on. Many problems are caused by poor communication

A PhD is like any other project and needs to be handled in the same way. Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

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Time and resources will always be limited and therefore you need to decide what exactly the project will cover as well as what will not be included. Students often want to do a larger project or carry out more experiments because it is interesting, but you have a time limit and you need to ensure you will finish on time. If other research ideas come out of the project, then put these at the end of your thesis as suggestions for further work. You could even use them as a basis for another research grant you could be involved in or a fellowship application.

Your scope should be developed so that it defines the necessary work that is to be carried out to ensure the research question is answered. Adjustments may have to be made as rarely does everything go to plan but that doesn’t mean your plan has failed. You may need to take corrective action that reduces the scope if necessary as you cannot change the timeframe. PhDs are projects that usually take longer than planned and present less results than expected so don’t take on too much and be prepared to scale it down.

It has been found that two key warning signs in the delay of completing a PhD are constant changes to the research topic and avoiding communication with the supervisor. (Scoot et al 2013) so clarify your research question as soon as possible and keep talking!

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We are running a one day course on 8 November 2018 Managing your PhD as a project that has a refundable £10 deposit if you attend in full. This is for first year STEM PhD students at the University of Sheffield. Places are limited Email  for the booking password if interested.

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