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Your PhD Companion

Book Review

Stephen Marshall and Nick Green, How To Books Ltd, 3rd Edition, 2010, 156pp, paperback, £9.99, ISBN 1 845 283929

Reading this book is like having a friend with a PhD tell you what it is really like to study on a doctorate programme - warts and all! It takes you, in chronological order, through all the key parts of the doctorate process from embarking on a PhD through to the PhD "afterlife". At each stage of the journey it provides advice and tips. It is a frank account, from inside the process, which does not try to hide what a political and competitive world academia can sometimes be. However, the text is also very positive about the PhD process and hugely reassuring. It tackles head on the problems and doubts that PhD students face. The text is written in a gently humorous but informative vein and brought to life with real examples of the struggles and achievements of well known academics, such as the Noble Physics prize winner Heisenberg who nearly failed his doctorate at the viva stage and Wittgenstein who took over 20 years to complete. This is the third reprint of this text, which testifies to its continuing value.

The two authors (Stephen Marshall and Nick Green) obtained their PhDs in 2001. Both have now moved on into academic posts but have not lost touch with what it was like to work towards a PhD. The book is written from the student perspective and aims to get the best outcome for the student reading it. Many other PhD texts try to provide a balanced view of the student and supervisor perspectives. Writing from the student angle frees the authors to be blunt about certain aspects of the process and to write without any moral undertones. Marshall and Green do conclude that being a doctorate student means starting again at the bottom of the academic hierarchy/heap; that need not necessarily be the case but Marshall and Green rightly place a lot of emphasis on choosing the right supervisory team and research establishment. They list out the interview questions you could ask your potential supervisors to elicit information about themselves and the research environment you would be part of. They also tackle issues about resolving disputes and even changing supervisors.

In a book that is seeking to address the needs of students across disciplines it is impossible to enter into lengthy discussions on the choice of methodology and therefore this part of the volume is brief. However, it is much more detailed on those parts of the research process that are fairly standard across disciplines. In regards to searching the literature to find out what other work has been undertaken in the same field the text it is exceptionally frank; even discussing short cuts that are allegedly used. However, in terms of conducting and presenting the research requirements, for a short volume this text is fairly rigorous and detailed.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone considering a PhD and also to current PhD students. It?s not something that can be relied upon as the sole guide to a PhD (which one text can claim that) but it does provide a real insight into the process. It certainly does what it promises in the title and I wish that I had read this book before I started travelling the PhD path; it would certainly be a more comfortable and enjoyable journey with a good ?companion guide?.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Lomas, Northumbria University

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Lomas was a 3rd Year PhD student at Northumbria University.

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

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