Top positive review
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.