Recently, I had the chance to talk to Andrew Glencross, currently lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, about his PhD experience, and his advice to current PhD students. We were colleagues at the EUI, where he defended his thesis in 2007 (and I took a little longer). He describes himself as an ‘accidental academic’, in the sense that he got into university at the age of 18, and is somehow still there now, going on 34. But when you talk to him, you realise rather quickly that academia has hardly incorporated him by mistake. Schooled at Cambridge and as he calls it ‘socialised in academia’, he knows a thing or two about how academia works. You can read the whole interview here or download the pdf here.
Topics we discussed:
– Improving focus and productivity by increasing self-awareness
– Improving productivity by increasing your ‘PhD-awareness’
– How to deal with criticism and why it’s an essential skill for academics to master
– How to get the most out of supervision: how to deal with unavailable or critical supervisors
– How criticism is an integral part of the academic trajectory, and questions you should ask yourself before you choose to pursue that path
We also discussed how to reduce the likelihood of being perceived as a ‘tiny fish’ by your supervisor; why academics, unlike novelists (unfortunately) aren’t allowed to have meltdowns; and when is the right time to wear heels and get drunk (or, in Andrew’s case: get drunk – without the heels).
Andrew’s tips for writing a PhD more easily include:
- Be aware of your own productivity. When are you productive? When have you stopped being productive, in a given workday or in a given task? Instead of counting hours ask yourself: “What have I done to actually progress?”
- Increase your PhD-awareness. Be aware of what constitutes a PhD: its purpose and its constituent parts.
- Avoid having a meltdown when you’re criticised. Criticism in academia is abstract, not personal. Be aware of that.
- Expose yourself to criticism. Dealing with criticism is a cumulative experience. Build up your resources and experience to develop the self-confidence needed.
- Get your expectations right regarding the supervisory relationship: don’t expect a ‘deus ex machina’ solution.
- Prepare your supervision meetings in-depth. Draw up a list regarding what you want to talk about prior to the meeting, and be prepared to discuss your work orally in the event your supervisor did not read your work as well as you had hoped (or at all).
- Record your supervision meetings, so you have a record of what was said, and you can work with any criticism more constructively and strategically.
- If dealing with criticism becomes a problem, don’t let it fester. Persevere and work through it.
- Ask yourself whether you’re adept at responding to criticism, before deciding to pursue an academic career. Criticism becomes harder and more discriminating down the road.
- Don’t forget to celebrate your academic successes. Celebrate all that you’ve gone through, when you finally see something in print.