The Realities of Completing a PhD : How to Plan for Success book cover
1st Edition

The Realities of Completing a PhD
How to Plan for Success

ISBN 9780367677626
Published February 9, 2021 by Routledge
100 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The Realities of Completing a PhD gives a balanced and evidence-based view of the realities of PhD life. Full of practical tips and including a checklist to complete before sending an application, the book helps prospective PhD students prepare for the realities of taking on a PhD from an informed basis and offers guidance on submitting a well-planned application.  

This is the first book of its kind to bring together a range of international data that helps to paint a more balanced picture of the PhD process. The book outlines different types of PhD, how to select a topic for a PhD, how to write a robust research proposal and application, and the realities of PhD study in relation to student wellbeing, social commitments and employment prospects. By considering the issues raised in this book, students are less likely to be overwhelmed by the PhD process, and better equipped to complete their award.

The book will be invaluable for potential doctoral students as well as those already embarking on a PhD. It will also enable university mentors and supervisors to consider how the application phase is key to managing student expectations, and how they can further promote a healthy and productive PhD experience. 

Table of Contents



Part 1: The realities of doing a PhD: issues affecting student dropout, completion, employment and wellbeing

1. What is a PhD and why do one?

2. Common misconceptions about doing a PhD: completion, value and employment potential

3. Emotions and wellbeing during a PhD

4. Assessing your own situation to do a PhD: time, social commitments, finance and scholarships, international study, special needs

Part 2: Preparing your PhD application

5. Selecting your research topic and choosing a university/supervisor

6. The PhD application process

7. Writing a research proposal

8. Planning for study life

9. Being an independent learner, supervision and support

Your PhD checklist

References and Resources

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Nicholas Rowe is a trans-disciplinary educationalist, with interests in scientific communication and academic/professional development. A dual fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy and the Society for Education and Training, he worked as a full-time lecturer in the UK and did his PhD in education in Finland.


"The drive over recent years by governments, funders and universities to expand PhD provision has brought many benefits, in terms of high-value knowledge and skills. But it has also meant a far smaller proportion of PhD graduates remain in academia, and end up taking those skills elsewhere. From an economic policy perspective, this is positive. From a personal perspective, it still too often results in a mismatch between expectations and outcomes for PhD students, which can be exacerbated by wider problems around career progression, workload, mental health, diversity and inclusion. PhD students need access to data and evidence that can enable them to make informed choices - about the benefits and opportunities of doctoral training, and about the challenges they may encounter along the way, and when they graduate. 

In this valuable book, Nicholas Rowe successfully combines those macro and micro perspectives. "The Realities of Completing a PhD" is both a practical guide and trusty companion to anyone contemplating or undertaking doctoral training, and a cogent analysis of the PhD system itself. At a time when research cultures and researcher wellbeing are the focus of unprecedented and welcome scrutiny, this book shines a light on the changing realties of PhD study in the 2020s. I’ll be recommending it to all my PhD students."

James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy, University of Sheffield (UK) and Director, Research on Research Institute (RoRI).

"As an academic who has had the suspicion that something is amiss in the institution that is the PhD, it has been hard to put a finger on the source of the problem. After all, many factors play a role, and good/universal data on the topic is not easily found, even with an earnest look.

In "The Realities of Completing a PhD," Nicholas Rowe provides the most comprehensive compilation of statistical data to date to address both these anecdotes and unknowns. The tone is overall factual (and often sobering) and written with informative caution for career decision-making, as any good book on the topic should be. In addition, the latter half of the book provides important guidance on how to navigate choosing a program and path, ensuring a better-prepared matriculant. Importantly, the lessons and truths revealed span the breadth of the academe, and are transposable to whatever field of inquiry to which a student aspires.

I highly recommend that mentors and prospective graduate students alike read this book to become better informed about the process of obtaining a PhD, the pitfalls that come with the process, and strategies for approaching the endeavor. I will be recommending it to my advisees who are considering graduate study, and you should, too."

Michael Parker, PhD, Assistant Dean of Georgetown College, Georgetown University.

"The realities of completing a PhD: How to plan for success is a timely book in an era when higher education has been evolving in response to changing economic, professional, and social developments. Rowe’s book is particularly needed and valuable for both potential doctoral applicants and university faculty and staff. It is engaging and contains an abundance of useful information that will serve as a step-by-step guide for future students."

Veselina S. Lambrev, Teachers College Record, November 29, 2021,