How to complete your PhD on time: Five top tips

If you don't finish on time, I'll send the boys (cows) round

The title of this blog post does sound a bit pretentious, but I’m assured it helps with SEO. I always feel slightly nervous when giving generic PhD advice. Nonetheless, here we are. I’ve compiled a short and in no way comprehensive list of my top tips to maximise your chances of finishing your PhD on time.

  • Hit the ground running. You have to start as you mean to carry on. It is very easy to lose the first 6-12 months to indecision, uncertainty and being disorganised. If you have any time prior to the start of your PhD to do some reading or prepartion, then do. Immerse yourself in the topic from the beginning.
  • Write, write, write, write. At the end of the day you will be assessed on your thesis. There are other requirements of PhD completion (e.g. producing work of publishable quality) and you are expected to develop specific skills, but ultimately it’s about your writing. Start early. Writing is a key skill and you want to maintain your aptitude in it long before you look to finish.
  • Manage your supervisor. Establishing your relationship with your supervisor is essential. Making sure you receive the support your require and the advice you need is important. By not being explicit about your expectations from the outset you can lose a lot of time trying to keep your supervisor in line. Be assertive.
  • Work effectively. Do deadlines keep you on the straight and narrow? Then set deadlines. If they cause you unnecessary stress and anxiety, then don’t have deadlines. If you work best at weekends or at 2am in the morning, then do it. Everyone is different – there is no right or wrong way – just make sure however you work, you do it effectively.
  • Switch off. A PhD is hard to detach from. But finding time to switch off is fundamental to a healthy and enjoyable PhD experience. I play football, but reading a good novel, playing chess or having the occasional alcoholic drink could be your salvation. Without the capacity to get away from your work you will burn out, so don’t feel guilty about indulging yourself.

I’m on course to finish (submit) within three years and these are the tangible things I’ve identified that have helped me get to this stage. But it’s not a gospel – perhaps you have some better suggestions? Maybe you think you shouldn’t rush your PhD?

There’s a comments box below.



  1. These are all really great suggestions. I think another important thing however is learning to say no. You can get lots of enticing offers such as picking up teaching and other work to supplement your funding (if you are lucky enough to have any) and for others who are self-funded this can be even harder to say no to. I took on far to much ‘other’ stuff during my PhD. I finished mine in 3,5 years, but had to pick up a part time job for the last 6 months. Had I not had to do that I think I would have finished much sooner.

  2. […] and academic it is important to understand how you work best, as Trev pointed out in his post ‘How to complete your PhD on time’. Time-out from work is very important but I like to think of the way I manage my workload as a […]

  3. […] have even enlightened readers with great tips on how to manage the life – work balance and how to complete a PhD on time (which it might be added, the author of that post actually managed to […]

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