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How to Survive Your PhD

Australian National University via edX


You need to be smart to begin a PhD - but you need to be resilient to finish one. Between one-quarter and one-third of all research students never finish their degree. The PhD is an emotional journey as much as it is an intellectual one.

What kinds of emotions does the research degree process provoke? What strategies can help students deal with the emotional highs and lows? How can academic advisors, family and friends help research students cope with these stresses - and celebrate the successes?

This course is primarily designed for masters, PhD, and research students and the academics who are tasked with helping them, but you may also be a family member or friend of a PhD student who is seeking to better understand what your loved one is going through.

By directly addressing the emotional issues, and by helping us see the connections between emotional resilience and success, this course aims to help us all create a more supportive academic environment, where students can do their best research work.


Week one: Setting the scene
Prior research on research student success and failure shows that there are a range of common factors at play. We examine these factors and start to look at the causes.
Week Two: A quick history of the doctorate
To better understand how and research degree study can be so difficult we will take a brief tour back to the late middle ages and the birth of the university - as a place and an idea.
Week Three: Confidence
We take a look at confidence, in particular why some students have very little. We’ll explore the imposter syndrome and how we might counter it and then have a look at the risks of over confidence.
Week Four: Frustration
This week we look at frustration. Research can be very frustrating, but writing is perhaps the site of most of the frustration that students feel. We explore the nature of this frustration and how supervisors can make it better - or worse.
Week Five: Loneliness
Loneliness and isolation seems to be a common problem for research students - but how does it happen? We look at the difference between social isolation and intellectual isolation. We tackle the difficult problem of how much help a supervisor should really give a student.
Week Six: Fear
Research students are high achievers who often have an intense fear of failure. We look at two fears in particular - fear of writing and fear of speaking in public.
Week Seven: Curiosity
Good researchers are curious creatures! Curiosity is crucial to research, but what happens when curiosity gets out of control? This week we focus on the literature review as a site where curiosity can get out of control.
Week Eight: Confusion
Confusion is an inevitable part of the research degree process - but do research students get confused about the same sorts of  things?
Week Nine: Boredom
A research degree usually involves a big project that takes place over an extended period of time. It’s inevitable that some students will get bored. But boredom is much more interesting than you might think!
Week Ten: Love
Do researchers always love their work? What about love for your supervisor - is that appropriate? If you truly love your discipline, how should you behave as a researcher? This week we look at Love - and it’s complicated.

Taught by

Inger Mewburn

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  • Profile image for Элла Элен
    Элла Элен

    Элла Элен completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    As a postgrad student I'm happy that this course exists! Through stirring articles on different psychological aspects of writing a thesis and lively discussions on forum, on twitter and during live chats, professors and fellow students really help and...
  • Dr.Ko Ko Oo Ph.D completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    I learnt How to survive your PhD course.I satisfied this course.I never stop learning, Because life ever teaching.Thanks a lot.

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