skip to Main Content

Mastering your PhD by P. Gosling and B. Noordam – Book Review

Mastering your PhD was the very first book I read about the process of doing a PhD. After one month into my PhD, I went to my university’s annual PhD event, and there all participants received a free copy of the book. It took me until last February to actually read it, and since I was new to this material, there were a lot of good thoughts in it for me. A fair amount of the book’s content can be found here

What I like about the book, is that it is a very entertaining piece of reading. It offers short, well-structured chapters, a lot of bulleted lists (I like lists, in case you didn’t notice yet), and at the end of each chapter a story about 3 PhD students is told so it’s very easy to relate to the material.

Here is a list of topics which I found most useful from this book:

1. Setting goals

I especially liked the description of the action plan as you an see in the article:
1. clarify your goals and objectives
2. write down a list of actions
3. prioritize
4. organize your actions into a plan
5. monitor and measure your progress
and of course, you need to have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related) goals.
Further down the article they discuss the 80/20 rule: 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results.

2. The monthly progress monitor

The idea of the monthly progress monitor has been the basis for my different levels of to do lists.
The progress monitor has 4 questions:

1. Of the results I obtained last month, which are the most important?
2. Did I deviate from last month’s planning? If so, why?
3. What are my most important goals for the upcoming month?
4. How do I overcome potential hurdles?

Although I don’t write out all these questions, I do reflect on it when making my monthly to do list. By now, I’m able to estimate very well how much I can get done in one month’s time.

3. Celebrate your success

This concept was totally new to me. I usually just think “well that’s nice” after a success and then I just keep on going. However, finding the joy of little successes has given me much more satisfaction in what I do, and it works very motivational. It gets even better when others come to celebrate your success! Last week, my lab technician brought me flowers to celebrate my large-scale experiment number 100.

4. The final year

This material is not really covered in the online series.
In the book, you can see an overview of the schedule of a last year of a PhD. Before I read this book, I didn’t realize that there are so many extra things that take up a fair amount of time which need to happen before you can defend your thesis. Some of this is typical for the Netherlands, but this chapter was a good wake-up call for me to make me realize that I need to save probably the entire last year for writing.

5. Lessons learned

At the very end of the book, two phrases are highlighted:
1. Planning is essential
2. Communication creates harmony.
As for now, I’ve already learned to appreciate this first comment. Even though a PhD is all about unknowns, planning is indeed essential and will help you not to loose your way when you’re out there in the woods.
I can as well relate to the second statement. I might have beautiful results in the lab, but in order to pass this knowledge on to the scientific community, I need to be able to write about my results, and to present them to an audience of peers.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I hope you will take some time to look at the online series of articles, there might be some good thoughts in there for you too.

Share with your peers!
This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Thanks for the link! I guess I'd like to read it. For now my favourite is Phil Dee's \”Building a successful career…\” which you wrote about as well.

  2. Most of the chapters from this book are online, so you might like to spend some time going through them; I found these very good. The book \”The unwritten rules of PhD research\” is also very good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top

Free Templates for your Research

Sign up here to get access to worksheets for your research that help you have more efficient meetings, reflect on your work, and plan your month. Suitable for anyone from Master’s thesis students to full professors!