Advice to a new PhD student 3.0

My friends @benteka and @velkova have just begun their PhD studies so I decided to revamp an old text. Warning: Following advice is like entering into Phd studies. You do it at your own risk.

One: “You changed man!” – Axel Foley. Write down a list of things you want to achieve. Include ideas, expectations, dreams and hopes. Put the list into an envelope and do not open until you are halfway or two-thirds through your Phd period. Most probably you will be cynical and jaded and your advice will sound silly. Take the idealist with you.

Two: “Save it for your blog Howard.” – Leonard Hofstadter. If you have the inclination to blog – then do so. There are loads of arguments for (here) and against (here) academic blogging. Some supervisors see it as a waste of time & energy. Sure focus is good but some reasons against: You will hate your PhD project when you realize that you have no time to explore other cool stuff – blogging is a way to explore that stuff. Second, getting along in academia is all about ranking and impact. Blogging will not make you famous but it will help you push your views across. Finally, any activity which involves the formulation and presentation of ideas is an important activity for a Phd.

Three: “Follow that ostrich!” – Mr Fix. Leave the department. Go international if possible. Departments are microcosms of ideas, beliefs and practices. Reading others is good. Meeting them is better.

Four: “Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down.” – Jimmy Durante. Be helpful and friendly to your colleagues. I have NEVER understood the competitive side of some PhD students who attempt to suppress others. I will never understand the reason why certain people with PhD’s tend to forget the reality of the situation and bully PhD students. Picking on people who cannot fight back does not mean you are powerful. It means you are a weak human being.

Five: “Humour is also a way of saying something serious.” – T S Eliot. Pick a cartoon. For me the best are XKCD & Piled Higher and Deeper. You will be surprised where inspiration comes from.

Six: “Trust me, Cardiff is the safest place in the world.” – Dr Who. Don’t believe anything anyone tells you about the Phd. It is an experience. You make the experience.

Seven: “Recheck everything, Captain, question everything.” – Vulcan Ambassador Soval. Conducting research means questioning everything. Its like a return to childhood with the endless naive questioning of accepted values.

Eight: “Is it rude to Twitter during sex? To go “omg, omg, wtf, zzz”? Is that rude?” – Robin Williams. Twitter is a brilliant tool. Use it wisely.

Nine: “Who woulda guessed reading and writing would pay off.” – Homer. From the day you begin your PhD work. Write! Reading is important but don’t get stuck there. Don’t wait until you have read “everything” or the next important book before starting. If you do not have text you cannot re-write.

Ten: “Have fun, just don’t have amnesia.” – Samantha. If you do not enjoy what you do your text will reflect this. If your text reflects this then your thesis will not be interesting for the reader. If you do not enjoy what you do how are you ever going to find the energy to read all the texts, discuss them with others, write all your texts and beg others to discuss them with you?

Eleven: Expect procrastination, plan for it and embrace positive procrastination.

Twelve: Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Academia

Recommended reading:

You know you’re a Phd student when…

The dangers and joys of Academic Language

Butterworth I did a PhD and did NOT go mad

Matt Might’s The illustrated guide to a PhD

Death, Internet & Law PhD

This is so cool! Almost makes me want to do a second PhD… More info here.

PhD Studentship in


University of Strathclyde – Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – School of Law -– Legal Aspects of Transmission of Digital Assets on Death

The School of Law in the University of Strathclyde invites applications for a PhD studentship which will research the area of how the law regulates the transmission of digital assets on death, including notions of access, control, propertisation, and ownership. These assets might include: Facebook profiles, photos on Flickr, tweets, virtual assets in online game worlds such as Second Life, e-money, blog texts, eBay trading accounts, etc. This is a novel area where the student will be expected to research independently into appropriate areas of private law (eg property, succession, probate, contract) as well as intellectual property law, personality law and privacy law. A back ground in technology law is not essential, nor a technology qualification, but an interest in the information society is probably essential.

Applicants from any jurisdiction (including non-UK EU jurisdictions) are welcomed but English law will most likely form one of the jurisdictions of the study. Applicants should hold a first or upper second class Honours degree or equivalent in an appropriate discipline. A Masters qualification may be helpful. The studentship is funded by the Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub ( who are a major interdisciplinary centre for study of the Internet and ubiquitous computing funded by the RCUK Digital Economy programme and based at Nottingham University; the successful candidate will be based within the expanding Centre for Internet Law and Policy at Strathclyde Law School, but will have opportunities to participate in Horizons activities. The student will be supervised by the Director of CILP, Professor Lilian Edwards.

Applicants should submit, by SEPTEMBER 16 2011, a full CV, two academic references, evidence of academic qualifications to date and a covering letter detailing interest in the area of research to:

Janet Riddell (Horizon Digital Economy Scholarship), Graduate School Manager, Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, Room LT205, Livingstone Tower, 26 Richmond Street, Glasgow, G1 1XH

Or by e-mail to:

Successful applicants will have their fees at home/EU rates only ((sadly)) waived for three years together with an annual maintenance award for three years of £13,590. The scholarship is for one year in the first instance and subject to satisfactory progress, will normally be renewed up to the maximum of a further 2 years.

Visit for general information on postgraduate research study at the University of Strathclyde and for further information on research degrees in the Law School.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to:

Passion and perseverance, not poetry, make a PhD

Sad, but unfortunately not uncommon, news today… yet another bright young colleague has dropped out from his PhD. The easy reaction was to throw out the obvious question: Why? But in reality it does not really matter. The reasons for people dropping doctoral studies are as varied, as there are people and even if you asked could you ever get the true reason for people’s actions?

But I still want to comment on the doctoral process. In 2006 I wrote a post called Advice to a shiny new PhD student which still contains some good advice.

What I want to add is that the work of the PhD is not a sprint it’s more like a marathon on a bad day. Its seems endless and thankless when you are doing it – sure some people wave to cheer you up on the way but in reality nobody cares about your work – but it’s the end that makes it worth it.

In a marathon you don’t want to be a specialist… You want to be the beige super generalist.

The PhD student will be surrounded by people who are brighter, more poetic, more prolific, more intelligent, better read, more beautiful, etc. In fact no matter what trait you can imagine there will be someone who is better than you. And this is not a depressing thought!?

To survive a PhD is not about being the best in those ways. It’s about become the best at a certain subject. To become the best in academia you really need two things more than anything else. First, a passion for the subject. The reason why your topic is interesting is because it is unexplored. The reason it is unexplored is usually because it is obscure. You will not be loved for you subject, you will be alone with your subject. To survive with little outside stimuli you need passion.

The second thing you will need is perseverance – because it will be boring. No matter how interesting it sounds any topic becomes boring. This does not mean it will never be exciting again – but recognize that you passion for your chosen topic will ebb and flow.

So ignore the poetry and get on with it!

Breaking and Making Bodies and Pots

Åsa M. Larsson archeologist and blogger (Ting & Tankar) has finished her PhD thesis! She will be defending at 1 pm at Friday 18 September (Geijer auditorium, building 6, Humanities Centre, Engelska Parken, Uppsala).

Her work is on osteo-archaeology about the Middle Neolithic B in the Lake Mälaren area, c. 2800-2400 cal BC. Nope, I didn’t get that either! Maybe its because I am a lawyer? Anyway, she has the coolest title: Breaking and Making Bodies and Pots. Material and Ritual Practices in South Sweden in the Third Millennium BC. Aun 40. Department of Archaeology and Ancient History. Uppsala University.

For some reason Swedish archeologists are active bloggers. Wonder why?

Great work Åsa!

Iceland tomorrow!

Tomorrow I am off to Iceland! This is really cool even though I wish I was staying there for a longer period of time. But it’s cool enough. I fly up tomorrow, have meetings on Tuesday and fly home early on Wednesday. The meetings should be very interesting since I am there to participate in discussions on Tryggvi Björgvinsson‘s thesis, there will be meetings with the Icelandic Society for Digital Freedom. Also I should be able to squeeze in some sightseeing between airports.

Love and hate my job

Feeling decedant tonight slouching on the sofa watching tv, celebrating the completion of the initial part of my empirical research – I have completed empirical studies of a mailing list containing over 15 000 discussion threads over an eight year period. This work has been negative, depressing and very very very boring. This part of my work I really really hate. It’s not the results but the reality of the everyday grind that I hate.

The part that I like is the recognition. I was asked to be part of examination committee which was/is a major honor. And to add a cherry to this already great place is that I get to fly to Reykjavik, Iceland in March. I will not be there for a long period but I will be in Iceland! This is so cool and I am really looking forward to the trip.