April 15, 2021

I wish I’d read this book when I was doing my PhD!

Anyone for a game of PhD bingo?

Published this year by Oxford University Press, How to Get Your PhD: A Handbook for the Journey by Gavin Brown [1] is essential reading for anyone thinking of doing, or trying to get through, a PhD. I wish I’d had this book when I was doing mine, here’s why:

I thoroughly enjoyed my PhD and given the chance I’d do it all again. I was lucky to be able to do research guided by a great supervisor (Robert Stevens) and it was rewarding being part of a big and friendly lab. There were loads of opportunities to get involved in all sorts of other projects along the way. Thankfully, I also had some good mentors and met tonnes of interesting people from all over the world. I am very grateful to Robert, Carole Goble and everyone else who made it possible.

Despite all the good stuff, there’s plenty I could have done better. Hindsight is a great teacher. Gavin’s book would have helped me do a better PhD but hadn’t been written at that time – I wish it had been. I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger. [2]

Alongside serious technical advice on the mechanics of doing a PhD, Gavin’s book provides a good overview of some the psychological and emotional hurdles every PhD will encounter. Unlike a lot of similar books (there’s already tonnes of self-help PhD guides out there), this one is written in first person singular which makes for a more engaging and shorter read. Serious advice is balanced by the books light hearted tone, with plenty of humour, such as the game of PhD Bingo, shown in the picture on the right. Like most students, I ticked all those boxes (BINGO!) apart from the “you will read this book” box. Don’t be that person, Read The Friendly Manual! RTFM. Read THIS Friendly Manual!

The handbook also includes personal stories which help get key messages across, not just from Gavin, but a distinguished bunch of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who have contributed to the second part of the book including Nancy RothwellVictoria BurnsSteve FurberLucy KissickHiranya PeirisMelanie LengJeremy WyattDavid HandCarolyn VircaShakir MohamedJonny Brooks-Bartlett and Jennifer Polk.

So if you’re wondering about doing a PhD, or you’re currently doing one, go and read Gavins book. I’m not just saying that because (disclaimer) Gavin is a colleague of mine. I’m saying that because I wish this book had existed back when I did my PhD. It’s packed full of sound advice and I heartily recommend you read it!


  1. Brown, Gavin (2021) How to Get Your PhD: A Handbook for the Journey, Oxford University Press, ISBN:9780198866923
  2. Lane, Ronnie and Wood, Ronnie (1973) “Ooh La La.” In Ooh La La. The Faces. “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger…”

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