Books, Phd

PhD advice book reviews, Part 1: “PhD: an uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life” by James Hayton

When I wrote the research proposal for my PhD a few months ago, I was a little stuck. The university had an outline of the various sections to include and the word count, but I really didn’t know what to actually write.

Luckily, there are lots of PhD/ postgraduate writing books out there that help you through the process. I ended up buying 4 PhD advice books second-hand (these books can be expensive so make sure you look for a cheaper option). I will review these books one-by-one over the coming week.

The first book I bought online was “PhD: an uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD Life” by James Hayton, 2015. The book is written in a series of blog-like sections, covering topics such as developing your research topic, getting your work published and writing and defending your thesis.

The tone of the book is conversational and friendly, with examples from his own personal PhD experience given throughout the book. He completed a science PhD, and so some of his recommendations and experiences might be more suited to fellow science PhD students, as opposed to humanities PhD students.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include a specific section of writing the research proposal. As this was the primary need for buying the book, this was a bit disappointing! Again, I think this is due to a higher number of science PhD projects being funded with pre-approved research proposals than in the humanities.

The book likens a PhD to “doing a high jump in the dark; you know the bar is there somewhere, but you don’t know how high you have to jump in order to clear it.” I love this simile, and Hayton continues this theme throughout the book: that you must not expect to be brilliant at writing/ presentations/ analysis from the beginning. You have to start with small, simple tasks before you can proceed to larger, more complex tasks. This advice is reassuring, and helped me to start learning about the PhD process without becoming overwhelmed.

This book provides a very good starting-point of many topics, but due to the short sections, lacks in-depth advice. If, like me, you are looking for a comprehensive “what you need to put in this, and how to actually go about doing that” section, you won’t find it here. The book seems to be aimed at people who feel lost in the process and need a broad overview of how to tackle the problems.

Overall, this is an entertaining summary of what the PhD process involves and is ideal for someone who is considering starting a PhD. If you are looking for books to help you write a research proposal, or for more in-depth advice on other parts of the PhD process, you might be best to consider other books.

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