PhD Life

Tips for your PhD final year.

PhD final year is that last leg of the race. This is where we reap the rewards of our hard work. This post strips it all back, exploring two core objectives that you need to focus on to bring your PhD home and set you up for success afterwards.

Elsewhere in this blog we’ve covered tips for your PhD first year, how to achieve maximum success during your PhD, as well as general guidance on navigating PhD life. So, with all those in mind, it’s only appropriate that we also cover the final leg of the marathon – the PhD final year. We’ve deliberately called this ‘final’ year as PhDs will vary in length, typically 3-4 years, but in certain parts of the world this can be as long as 7 years (possibly even longer, especially if you switch to part time). The general focus for your PhD final year then should really centre on two things, or to be as specific as possible, one primary objective and one secondary objective. Your primary objective is obvious – the goal is to finish your PhD, on time and submit as planned. The secondary objective is positioning yourself and beginning to do the practical and psychological work necessary to get you ready for what happens after you finish.

That primary objective of finishing on time is central to your PhD. You don’t embark on an academic journey, make it this far, and decide to throw in the towel. Of course, if you have thoughts of quitting and depending on your circumstances that’s a different story – but on the most part if you’re at the final hurdle, it makes sense (most of the time) to stick it out to the end and not get distracted by other things. Therefore, the task you should really be focusing on is finishing your ‘research’. This includes wrapping up any final experiments you have, finalising any data you’ve collected, and getting everything in order so you’re able to write.

The sooner you reach this point the better. Writing your PhD thesis is a lot of work, it’s also super complex and trying to hold all of it in your head is draining and challenging at times. Being able to free up as much headspace as possible to be able to write well is essential. It also means you won’t hit delays outside of your control – where you’re waiting for data to begin writing for example. If you’ve written consistently throughout your PhD, it’s likely that you’ll be in the best position possible. Here is where you get to see the fruits of your hard work materialise (or not if you’ve procrastinated a lot). 

Given that writing is going to be your main focus in your PhD final year, it’s imperative to build a timeline and have rough milestones on when you’ll finish certain chapters. Or before that, how many chapters you want exactly. The sooner you’re able to build a rough structure in your head the better. A really nice way of approaching this is thinking about writing as habit, aim to set a daily word count in which you’ll aim to type it, and stick to it. It doesn’t need to be an enormous number of words, something in the region of 500 – 1,000 words a day will likely see you out to the end.

Obviously, if you have to start from scratch as you’ve got nothing down on paper, yet you’ll likely need to up your daily target. This approach will enable you to get through lazy days, when you’re unmotivated, or support you to push through writers block. If there’s one thing, we can all agree on its that editing a document is 100x easier than writing it from scratch. So even if it’s the worst 500 words you’ve ever strung together. Get it out the way so you can begin editing.  

Writing is therefore your primary objective. Absolutely nothing else (PhD wise) should take you away from this task. If you’re teaching, writing your supervisors paper, or engaging in additional activities – stop. You don’t have to stop indefinitely, but we encourage you to put all the distractions down so you can really focus on your PhD. Putting other things down will free up time and head space to be able to really meet your deadlines (or possibly submit early!). It’s not a permanent stopping of extra activities, it’s just the most effective way to keep you on track. It’s far too common for people to have a submission deadline, but they go beyond it because they want to add ‘a little bit more’ or ‘write a whole new chapter’. Freeing up time to address these tweaks will ensure you meet the deadline you’re aiming for. You have to be disciplined, as a PhD student you probably are already, but in your PhD final year you really have to ramp this up to guard and protect your time.

The next section of this post is going to focus on career searching. This is going to contradict much of the points above because it’s arguably a second thing to focus on which isn’t about your PhD – which isn’t necessarily good. But there’s a reason why we’ve put this as the secondary objective, and not the primary one. In short, when you’re in your PhD final year, searching for your next job or position should not come at detriment to actually finishing your PhD. Jobs are always going to be there, the goal posts and start dates are on the most part movable – your PhD deadline isn’t. It’s also not advisable to get into a career before you’ve finished your PhD because this might actually mean you never finish your PhD in the first place!

However, if you’ve written throughout your PhD, have been able to start early in your PhD final year (aka stick to your primary objective), put enough distractions down, you can begin to think about what happens after. We’ve got a series of other posts dedicated to job hunting, when to start searching and how to even identify a new career path. But as before, the sooner you start this the better. Elsewhere on this site we encourage you to start around 3-4 months before your PhD submission. This sounds super early, but this will encapsulate a lot of thinking time you need to do to work out what it is you actually want to do after – or possibly even take a break. In this period you can then begin to think about writing applications, networking, building your LinkedIn profile, and tackling your first set of interviews.

Unfortunately, this is about as exciting as it gets. The PhD final year advice is a lot less exciting that tips for your PhD first year. But this is because the final year is really a ‘functional’ year. It’s where you reap your rewards and push your hard work over the line. To do that effectively you have to develop laser focus, tunnel vision on what it is you’re trying to achieve and not deviate from that in the final straight. It sounds incredibly simple and straight forward, because in theory it is, the hard part comes with actually putting it into practice.

Donate to show your support:

Make sure you never miss a new post!