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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2011
Despite the central message of this book (focus on your viva from the start of your research), I only read it when I had already submitted my thesis and was preparing for my viva. I soon wished that I had read it earlier. I could have turned this book's advice to serious profit in my thesis, but I nevertheless found it a very useful aid for viva preparation, and it was extremely helpful in ordering my thoughts and reassessing my thesis before viva day.

All the components of successful PhD research are laid out in this book, and that elusive question - what do I need to demonstrate in my thesis to be awarded my PhD? - is answered fully. Unlike other 'how to get a PhD' books (I've read several!), this volume is based on academic research into the doctoral process, not hearsay and anecdotes, and this makes for satisfyingly convincing advice. This book tells you what supervisors don't, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone doing PhD research.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2009
The diverse challenges currently facing supervisors around the world mean they can no longer rely on their discipline-based experience to adequately supervise students. This has compelled supervisors to resource material outside their research field to obtain guidance and deeper insights to effectively tackle the complexities of new era postgraduate research supervision. With "Stepping Stones", such needs are addressed

The aim of Trafford and Leshem's book is to explore the nature of the doctoral process that examiners expect candidates to display in their thesis. Astutely this topic is tackled both practically and perceptively. Sagely, the authors provide a valuable contribution to what is meant by "doctorateness" and a perceptive analysis of what is meant by the scholarly nature of the degree. These concerns are not covered in the numerous "how to do a PhD" books which currently dominate the market. Practically, the book focuses on the examination end point and works backwards in stages to the requirements needed to meet that goal. Whether a viva forms part of the examination process or not, the "Stepping Stones" laid out are a clear and instructive path to the endpoint. As a supervisor I found the practical directive on the architecture of a doctoral thesis and how this changes during the writing process enormously helpful. These changes prompted one of my past students to ruefully remark, "I learnt how to hit a moving target". Hopefully future students won't be as irritated by this exercise now that I am better equipped to supervise this exasperating stage of thesis writing. Staying with postgraduate students, the examples of examiners reports, extracts from theses and vignettes drawn from candidates, supervisors and examiners are illuminating. Such material is seldom encountered or unobtainable to the student body due to confidentiality requirements.

There is a clear, logical approach which threads its way from one chapter to the next in a commonsensical fashion. Each chapter has a clear aim stated at the outset, is easily read and most importantly has examples and illustrations of the concepts and their implementation. Noteworthy is the "Magic Circle" which I have used in my current supervision to illustrate the interconnectedness of the entire research plan.

I can highly recommend "Stepping Stones" as it provides a thought-provoking account of an aspect of postgraduate research, and its supervision, which is not covered by the growing literature on the topic. For this reason it is an essential item which should have a place on the book shelf of the academically minded and committed masters and doctoral supervisor from whichever field of research.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 8 December 2011
I have just completed my PhD (it was in a social science and philosophical area).

I found that it made a great deal of difference when I read what about doing a PhD. I came across How to get a PhD by Phillips and Pugh before I started it, and I still think it the best introduction; warm, friendly, clear, general, confidence-giving. But at the end of the process it seems almost trite - but I'm still very glad I started with it.

I came across Stepping Stones towards the end of the process.

I found it a revelation. Suddenly I could see how the process all fitted together, why this was important, why that had to be done, why this chapter had to include that point, why that chapter had to include this sort of material, and so on. It breaks the idea of "doctorateness" down into twelve parts and explains them in some detail - in particular, what you have to do to satisfy the examiners on each point. It closely reflected the way my supervisors, in whom I was much blessed, had guided me. It helped me see how good their advice was, and how to put it into effect better.

It also showed that the individual's imagination and creativity could play a part - and that if I had written "it showed the part creativity and imagination could play" I would be missing the point because how these things contribute to YOUR PhD is not the same as as the way they would to mine or hers or his. The PhD doesn't have to be dry, and it can be individual; the examiners want to see how you as a researcher can make a positive original contribution in your later career. (And it shows that "originality" is not an intimidating requirement!)

The book is predicated on the idea that if you think about how to handle your viva from the very beginning, and prepare your thesis with that in mind, both the thesis and the viva will come out right. I think it's a bit of a device, but in terms of explaning the whole process it worked very well. It was also ( I thought) realistic and human about the viva itself - focused on your needs as the student, encouraging, practical, down to earth, perceptive and informative. (I have looked at other books implying, discouragingly, that the viva is a war to be survived. I found this so obnoxious I wouldn't review it on Amazon. I thought the one I have in mind focused on the writer's desire to be heard, not the students' need to be supported.)

I personally had only one problem with Stepping Stones: I couldn't work out what THEY meant by "a conceptual framework". However, there are plenty of references to other writing, and I found one I already had - Miles and Huberman - sorted it out very quickly. Now, if you read the book you will wonder what gave me any problems - but I'll bet you find something else that doesn't make sense first time. To some extent this is a matter of our individuality. However, I think it also has to do with how far we have developed before we read the book. If Phillips and Pugh is a good start point, I am very glad I didn't look at this one till I was well into the process - if I hadn't lived some of the problems, I think some of the book would have appeared difficult rather than revelatory. But maybe you're different. Also don't forget that your university, and your supervisors, are (probably) always "right" if what they say clashes with this book. There will be a few points for discussion, I'm sure. Nobody at PhD level agrees with everythign someone else says.....

I found this a very, very helpful work.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2011
Whether you are a doctoral candidate, a supervisor or an examiner, this book should be required reading.

The authors assume - justifiably, in most cases - that in the years of their research project, PhD candidates will become well-versed in the research and writing skills necessary to produce a good thesis. It is to the new and nerve-wracking experience of the viva voce, a panel interview in front of three or more examiners, that they devote their attention. They succeed in demystifying the viva with novel and invaluable documentation and discussion of supervisors' and examiners' questions and comments.

By showing the candidate how to start with the viva and work backwards, Vernon Trafford and Shosh Leshem's `life-cycle approach' allows the entire project to be taken into perspective. The authors metaphorically call this the "magic circle". However, they do not limit themselves to the student experience. For supervisors, the utility of `Stepping Stones' lies in explaining the impact of the viva on the design and outcome of the research process. It also provides chapters on acquiring `doctorateness', the vexed question of concluding a thesis, and how then to summarise it in a fifty-word abstract.

This book really can become a stepping stone to achieving a doctorate, and therefore I highly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2011
This book will be of immense, practical help to all who are embarking on, or moving through, a doctoral programme or PhD. It's not so much a matter of de-mystification, more a question of shining a clear light on what 'doctorateness' consists of and how to work towards it- and how to shape both research and writing towards achieving this. For practical, clear and analytical support in the process of achieving a doctorate it would be hard to beat what Vernon Trafford and Shosh Leshem offer here.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book somewhat late into my PhD Studies (16 months) but I am really glad I have found it. This book takes an unusual approach in that it asks the new and continuing PhD student to focus on their viva from the beginning. This may seem strange but it works. I was flagging a bit with my enthusiasm and this book has helped me to refocus and to take stock of where I am going. When you are bogged down in all the literature and research it can be difficult to remember where the journey is taking us, but this book helps to keep a clear picture in mind throughout the process. Every chapter is appropriate, but somehow seems to manage to avoid covering the ground which is covered so well in other books. I particularly like the chapter on what is doctorateness. That is a very good question and it deserves to be answered by all aspiring PhD students. The chapter on looking at the words we use and the style of writing from the examiners point of view is extremely helpful and insightful. I would highly recommend this book and if it is read alongside The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research by Rugg and Petre then Doctoral students should be well prepared for their studies.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2012
Having read a number of PhD-related books, I can confidently say that this book is by far the clearest and most informative book to guide and advise PhD students. The main message is that to have a successful viva, you must plan for this from the outset. In other words, when you plan, conduct and write up, you should be constantly bearing in mind what your examiners are going to be looking for and how best to convey this in your thesis. I am so pleased to have come across this book at the end of Year 2. It means I still have plenty of time to follow it when I write up! I would strongly recommend this to other PhD students.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2011
I have just finished re-reading some chapters in this wonderfully well-written book, and my initial impression has not changed: all new PhD students must read this book. It is particularly useful for research students from non-native english speaking countries of asia, africa and the middle east to understand the ethos and process of the PhD journey from the perspective of the destination - the viva. Giving thought to the expectations at the completion of the journey is important, not just for preparation, but also for understanding the milestones that one comes accross in the course of the journey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 March 2012
I read a number of "how to get a PhD" books as I started out on my doctoral studies and found this to be the most illuminating and the most useful. It encourages you to start with the end game (the viva) in mind and takes you through the various elements of "doctorateness" that you need to demonstrate in your written thesis in order to succeed. It is a book I have already recommended to fellow students and will be referring to again as I progress through my own doctoral journey. It is well worth the investment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2012
A 'must have' for anyone who is intending to begin their doctoral journey!
This book will take you hand in hand through the stepping stones of your thesis writing.
In the last few months before submitting my thesis, it was constantly in my bag!
The book is clear, comprehensive and easy to read, research-based and provides useful examples.
You will find yourself returning to different chapters again and again.
I have come across this book in a rather late stage of my writing and yet it contributed greatly to my thesis. It was also of great help when preparing for the Viva. I wish I would have had it with me from day one. I would then have begun writing 'with the end in mind'.
This book should be recommended (or given) to every PhD candidate upon enrolment. I am intending to give a copy to anyone I care about who is planning on writing a masters or doctoral thesis. In fact, one of my friends has already recieved one.
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