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Possible solutions to potential PhD problems

Possible solutions to potential PhD problems
© University of Leicester

In the previous sections, a number of problems have been discussed that you may face when aiming to undertake a PhD. Whilst these are very real issues, there are a number of things you can do to try and counter or avoid them:

1) Outdated or little knowledge in the field of research
The solution here is to read, read, read! It helps if you have access to an academic library which can give you access to books and, often more importantly, relevant journals that will allow you to read the most up-to-date materials.

2) Practical research problems that are often defined by the applicant’s employer or government
This can be tricky, especially if you are dependent on the employer or government for funding. If this is the case, it is important to be clear from the start: funders will not be able to determine the content of your thesis, even if you try to accommodate their interests and requirements. Discussion with practitioners or policy bodies can be very useful to develop a research idea but this needs to be carefully balanced with academic expectations.

3) No research or methods training
If your previous study and experience is in a different field to the one you have chosen for your PhD, it may be useful (or you may even be asked) to undertake a relevant Masters degree. Alternatively, a Masters in Research Methods (or similar degree) will provide you with a very good foundation for further study.

4) Suggesting that you know what your research will reveal, wanting to ‘prove’ a point
This should, in theory, be easy to avoid in that it is ‘merely’ a case of checking that there are no such attempts to prove your point in your proposal. However, we all tend to have preconceptions and don’t necessarily notice when we are drawing on such preconceived ideas. This is why it is useful to discuss your ideas with others, ideally people who are familiar with your field of study. It is good practice to have at least a few such people read your proposal before you submit it.

5) Lack of understanding what a UK PhD is
This course should help you develop your understanding but it is also worth talking to current PhD students to hear about their experiences. This course includes accounts from current PhD students and ideally, you can also find somebody in the department you are intending to apply to who is studying something similar to your proposed research. The Vitae website also has online blogs where you can read about PhD students’ experiences.

6) Problems in the clarity of expression and with English language proficiency
It is likely that any aspiring or new PhD student will need to develop their expression and language proficiency to adjust to the academic norms and expectations in their particular field. This will require considerable work if English is not your first (or a main) language and passing the required language test is, in itself, not enough. The more you can read, listen (e.g. look for podcasts or YouTube clips by key authors in your field) and talk in English and about your research topic, the better.

© University of Leicester
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Discovering Your PhD Potential: Writing a Research Proposal

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