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The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research

Book Review

Marian Petre & Gordon Rugg, Open University Press, 2010, 320pp, paperback, £19.99, ISBN 0 335 237029

Imagine being introduced to a complex game like Chess, but someone only telling you how to move the pawns. They may tell you that the Rooks are important pieces and that you must not lose your King, but not the complete set of rules. Then imagine you get a book that not only explains the rules, but also gives you tactics on how best to use each piece, and how they work together as a formidable team. This book “The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research” is just that book for research PhD students.

Doing a PhD is a huge undertaking. Unlike an undergraduate degree, you are not expected to just pass some exams and or write some essays. You must prove yourself to be a competent researcher. As with any walk of life, there is certain etiquette amongst researchers. Some PhD students get all the details from their supervisor; however it is far more common for the student to have to just pick the information up.

The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research is a full guidebook to becoming an independent researcher. Written by computing professor, Dr. Marian Petre, and field archaeologist and English lecturer turned computer scientist, Dr. Gordon Rugg, who have both supervised PhD students, it contains a lot of the right sort of information for the size of book. The book covers many topics, including independent research, supervision, reading the literature, writing, presentations, the viva, conferences and more. Many of the topics dealt with things that I had not even thought of, but when mentioned I realised how important they were, such as actively building a network of contacts.

Due to the sometimes large differences in the research techniques of different disciplines a recurring theme in the book is advice on how to solicit information from the experienced people around you. The main part of this advice is how to do it whilst building a hard-working and capable image for yourself rather than a lazy, incompetent one.

Each short chapter discusses a different aspect of PhD research with many tables and lists of both what to do and what not to do. The discussion covers many aspects of the topic, informing you of common pitfalls, how to avoid them and how to achieve the most from your PhD. The book isn't just about passing; it's about succeeding in the fullest sense. It will tell you how to effectively manage all your resources and how to fulfil your potential in the academic world.

Personally, I feel grateful to have found this book only a year into my PhD. It has opened my eyes to the world of academia. There is more to a PhD than just research in the sense of working on a problem, getting some results and publishing your findings. This book has allowed me to open my eyes and see all the other things I should be doing to fully succeed at my endeavour of becoming a researcher myself.

I highly recommend this book to any potential or current PhD students.

Reviewed by Dominic Hosler, University of Sheffield

At the time of writing, Dominic Hosler was in the second year of a PhD in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FindAPhD.

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