During the PhD
- The best description of the PhD process that I heard from somebody is that it is often ‘non-linear’. That is, you don’t always neatly progress from one section to the next. Sometimes you try out ideas, explore avenues, and they just don’t turn out. So, then you try out others.
- Treat it like a job–work 8-5 daily, or whatever works for you to get at least 40hrs/week. I was much more productive when I got out of the house and worked at the same study area daily. That being said, I found that I wasn’t as productive during term time because of all the extra bits that go on: weekly NT Research Seminar, weekly Patristics Research Seminar, leading undergrad seminars, marking essays. The first year is especially busy as you attend Latin/German reading classes and audit a couple of MA modules (as is expected for most).
- Thanks to Nijay, I had a lot of encouragement to not only attend conferences but to also to present papers right from the beginning. I’m not as good with small talk like Nijay, but by presenting and interacting you are able to meet people and make contacts. For instance, I importantly met Mike Gorman at SBL my first year and learned that we have significant overlap in our interests. We’ve had a good relationship since. As another example, I presented my methodology at the British New Testament Conference, and Mike Bird heard me and learned about my interest in Irenaeus’ use of Paul. As a result of that, he later asked me to contribute to a collection of essays on Paul’s reception in the second century. It’s an honour to be included in the work, and it all came out of something that didn’t take much extra work. Plus, by presenting you get good feedback and learn to discuss ideas before the viva. The BNTC is great because it’s always <200 people, so you get to rub shoulders with most of the British scholars easily. Plus you all each common meals, so there are even more opportunities to meet people.
- Blogging…I’m not sure I would recommend trying to start a blog by yourself. You see my trouble in keeping up regular posts. However, I think I have reaped huge contact and name recognition benefits by having one. While lists of blogs are always growing, if you have one that is updated regularly (at least once a week) then it can help you meet and interact with others. I would recommend joining with one or two others and doing a group blog.
- I found the research seminars were great for exposing me to various areas of the general field. (As a side note, always dress a little better when you go to seminars than just jeans and t-shirt. I’m a firm believer that people judge you by your dress and treat you accordingly). At the same time, I would have picked up major works, especially those outside my area of study, earlier and just read intros and conclusions to get a feel of the lay of the land outside my topic. I’m a religious reader of RBL, mostly because I can get it on my blog reader.
- An easy way to keep up with stuff is by doing book reviews. Again, Nijay is the master of this and he passed along his wisdom to those of us who shared an office together. Free book, extra knowledge, what’s not to like? The problem I found is that they just take up so much stinking time. You don’t want to do a sloppy job because it reflects on your scholarship, and the publishers get all the reviews and send them to the authors. (So, don’t be too negative because they will read it, and who knows they may end up being an external examiner!) Also, think about the relative value. With regard to time, 15 or so reviews = 1 article, but with regard to employment, 15 reviews carry no weight at all, though a peer-reviewed article definitely does. So, I quickly limited myself to 1 review per quarter unless the work was central to my thesis.
- Get something accepted for publication before you finish, hopefully before you start applying for jobs. Most schools don’t care if you publish sections of the thesis beforehand, and it just goes to support you in your viva. I published something that was central to my thesis, but I didn’t have the word-count space to develop it. My first and only article started as a BNTC paper a couple of years before, and I just let it simmer until it was ready to be published. Since this is such an important part of academia, I devote 1 night per week for journal work/conference papers, in addition to my normal schedule. That way, no matter where everything else stood, I knew I’d get something done on the article.