Planning Your PhD

Planning Your PhD


Begin planning your PhD early – really early. One of the biggest regrets of many graduates is underestimating just how lengthy, difficult and time consuming planning your PhD can be. This is doubly so if you plan on completing your PhD at a foreign university.

If you are even thinking about completing s PhD in the future, start looking for some of the information below, we recommend beginning to look 1-1.5 years before you plan on commencing your PhD to give yourself ample time to find a position, supervisor and funding.


Start by going through this advice first. In short, you will need to:

  1. Find a research topic that interests you
  2. Find a specific researcher to supervise you & get in touch with them
  3. Find a university, find out enrolment deadlines and apply
  4. Locate and obtain funding
  5. Complete the PhD

Most importantly, do not underestimate the magnitude and importance of this planning stage. It will take time (years!), money (many universities charge to apply to them) and effort, so the earlier you start planning the better!

Career Pathways for PhD Graduates in NZ (Census 2006)


Specific Q&A for a MacDiarmid/New Zealand PhD


Q: Do I REALLY want to do a PhD?

A: Ultimately the choice is yours – the internet is full of people who have succeeded, failed, regretted it or loved it. Take a look at our PhD section to see what it actually entails, what skills it will help you develop and the kind of places it can lead you. If you’re still not sure talk to either an academic that has completed one or a student that is going through one at the moment (we recommend the latter) before choosing one way or the other. Bear in mind that 3 years seems like a huge commitment at the outset, but flies by really quickly once your wrapped in the depths of a project!


Q: What do I want to do?/ What sort of topic should I pick?

A: Find something that intrigues you, or that your passionate about and try and ensure that your attraction isn’t just a passing fancy. 3 years is a long time to work on a project that you ceased to care about long ago, but there is nothing like being a world-expert in a field that really gets your fires blazing.

Before deciding, take a look at which projects are on offer (we list new ones that become available here and there are also external resources listed here), but also read some papers (or talk to people) to get a handle on who the big names are in your field of interest. At this stage looking for specific professors / researchers / supervisors can be better than looking for institutions, as working with/under a cutting-edge researcher can give you more valuable experiences than simply gaining a PhD from a big name university. See the kind of things they are working on and, if they don’t have any projects available, try to think about something you could do to complement their work. If all else fails, get in touch with them to chat about potential projects. Also talk to other students and academics already in the field. Don’t forget that projects are prone to evolve with time and as new research comes to light, so starting out researching something doesn’t always mean that is where you will end up, and that a PhD is ultimately controlled by you and many supervisors are happy to let students take projects in a direction that particularly excites them.

Q: What resources can I expect my University to provide me as a PhD student?

A: Most universities have a “Minimum Resource Agreement” for thesis students (Masters or PhD) stating specifically the minimum you can expect and are legally obliged to provide you. For example, the Victoria University Wellington’s document can be downloaded here. Usually ‘minimum’ standards for students working more than 30 hours per week are:

  • Bookshelves/Filing cabinet
  • Computer with internet access
  • Email account
  • A desk and chair
  • Library resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *