Illustration: Luke Pearson
Illustration: Luke Pearson

The 20 second question

Can you explain your PhD in 20 seconds or less? Practice this! Every week with friends, colleagues and supervisor.

It is really important to have a clear, focused and non­‐technical motivation for what your PhD is about in terms of contribution to knowledge.

Live with this and adapt it as things change. I’ll ask you to explain this every week, we started out doing it in 1-2 minutes and the goal is that you will get more precise with your use of language, and more concise as the weeks go by.

The assignments that you have to complete for this course dovetail with your formal PhD requirement for year 1. At the end of year 1 you must submit your Literature Review (though it will get updated throughout your PhD study). Therefore, you are expected to complete the first draft of the Literature Review for this course. You will discuss this with your supervisor. We will do some group writing in class to help you start and to prepare you for Academic Writing Month in November. I will closely edit your Literature Review drafts and give you detailed feedback on your writing.

You will also give a short presentation on your PhD research during this course. This will prepare you for conference presentation and we will all work together to help you to improve your presentation skills.

Thanks to Mark d’Inverno for his contribution to this week’s class.


David Jenkins

David Jenkins was my PhD supervisor and he taught me how to write for a PhD, using the formal style expected in academia. He did this through discussion and by closely editing my draft documents. Those documents were printed (it was before Microsoft Word) and handed back to me, almost obliterated with red pen. The mistakes I continue to make are all my own!

It was an era when professors had more time available to spend with their PhD researchers, but even so, what he did for me was extraordinarily generous. By doing this, he ‘paid it forward’ and I do the same, most of the time, with the PhD researchers that I supervise, and the junior faculty that I mentor. But I use Word and other online tools for marking up documents.