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How to finish a PhD quickly

This article appears in: Study tips
HDR student and supervisor

Considering a PhD? The idea of committing a chunk of your life to research can be both exciting and daunting, but there are ways to make sure your timelines don’t blow out, your motivation doesn’t run out, and you can always see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Here, CDU’s Dean of Graduate Studies, Professor Tara Brabazon, offers her top 10 tips for submitting your thesis quickly.

Establish your research problem quickly

Start every PhD with the question: what is the research problem? What problem are you trying to solve?

Once you’ve figured that out: what is the gap in knowledge? What will your research do in that gap?

Locate the research problem, locate the research gap, and that problem can propel you through that research. From that point you can construct the methodology, the ontology, the epistemology to solve it, but you have the foundation for a really strong introduction and conclusion.


The crucial strategy to finishing quickly is reading, and reading a lot.

Once you’ve been admitted into a program you may want to drink your body weight in Chardonnay with excitement but use those three months to read widely.

Read your field, read other theses. Read always, read early, and use our libraries and librarians.

Reading without good note taking is not terribly efficient because you’re too reliant on your memory. Great note taking saves you months of your life and months of your candidature. If you have a great note taking system in your PhD, for the rest of your career you can use the notes for your PhD to enable other research projects.

Write all the way through your candidature

From the first week of your enrolment, you need to be writing.

We learn to write by writing, so write all the way through your enrolment. This relaxes you with your writing so you don’t end up in the dreaded ‘writing up’ process that slows down your thesis.

I cannot tell you how many students have finished a PhD writing 250 words a day. For some students, giving themselves a word length deadline strategy works.

A great supervisor can save you years

Yes, years.

They know the field, they’ve done the deep reading, they continue to read deeply and widely, they put themselves through peer review all the time, they undertake professional development, they understand the standard of a PhD.

They’re able to read your drafts quickly and know how to help you.

See also: How to find the right research supervisor

Use deadlines and milestones to your advantage

The students that finish on time complete their milestones on schedule. The moment you’re mucking about with milestones, your thesis is going to blow out unless you make a decision to do something different–today.

Make sure your confirmation of candidature, your mid-thesis review, your final thesis review is delivered on time and make sure in these milestones, you get external assessors to look at your work. You need another set of eyes beyond your supervisor to have a look at the work you’re doing.

Use these punctuation points to check the standards of your research.

Select a thesis area that is possible to finish

If you walk into a topic knowing that an ethics process is going to be lengthy, then you’re admitting at the start that you’re going to have troubles finishing.

If you want a quick PhD, you need to select a topic which has a frame around it.

Your PhD is not the best research you will ever complete – you are in research training!

People forget that the PhD is a qualification, and like all degrees you start it and you finish it.

Put your entire thesis into one document as quickly as possible

I cannot tell you what placing all your work does to your brain. Suddenly you take a breath, you can see your thesis, it has a shape. Now this full PhD draft keeps you incredibly motivated and reminds you what you’re actually doing.

The longer the candidature, the more mess can occur in that candidature. So remember, start the PhD seeing the ending and that will give you motivation and meaning.

That’s the gift of putting the entire thesis into one document. You can see the end in sight.

Learn to take feedback

Learning to take feedback is tough, but the best students take the tough, hard critiques early, and ask for the tough, hard critiques early.

It’s very easy to ignore uncomfortable truths particularly when you’re in a PhD. But it is the grit in the oyster that creates the pearl. The issue that emerges from that robust feedback early on invariably ends up being the gift of your thesis—you put the problem into the work.

That crucial feedback that emerges not only makes the thesis but ensures a rapid completion of that thesis.

Weekly meetings

Regular meetings are a characteristic of quick finishers.

I know it seems horrible for a lot of students but it creates an accountability cycle.

Stay connected with your thesis every single day

And yes, this one includes part-time students.

Don’t talk about it, do it. Even half an hour a day—but make it every day. That is how you finish.

There’s never a perfect time to do a PhD. Don’t wait for the perfect time to read—read now. Don’t wait for the perfect time to write—write now.

Life is difficult. Write and read on the difficult days.

See more from Professor Brabazon here.

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