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Tips for Successfully Earning a PhD

written by: John Garger•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 4/30/2013

The easiest way to get a PhD is to enter the program with the correct mindset, make a plan, and always be thinking about finishing the degree. Read these ten tips on earning a PhD to make the process as simple as possible for you.

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    705 3447307 There is no simple way to earn a PhD; any doctoral degree takes dedication, perseverance, and often an upheaval of one's life to finish the program. However, there are some tips you can follow to make earning a PhD as simple as possible. Read on to learn about the ten best tips on the easiest way to get a PhD.

    1. Mentally Prepare Yourself: One mistake many beginning PhD students make it to assume that a doctoral program is similar to a Bachelor's or Master's degree program. Unlike those programs where everything is spelled out for you on syllabi and in a program manual, a PhD program transforms you from a student to an independent scholar. Gone are the days of checking off lists of requirements prior to graduation. Your professors will graduate you from a PhD program when they see an independent thinker and not a student needing to be told what to do.

    2. Do your Homework on the Program - PhD programs are often custom tailored to meet the needs of the student, professors, program, and even university. Talk to former students about what they thought they would be doing as a doctoral student and what they actually did as a doctoral student. The disparity may surprise you.

    3. Always be Thinking about Finishing: If you get too comfortable as a PhD student, you will likely spend far beyond the 4 to 5 years necessary to complete the program or end up never finishing at all. All doctoral programs require you to finish in a preset amount of time. Take too long and you risk being kicked out of the program for lingering.

    4. Make a Plan: Without a long-term plan, you are at the mercy of the whims of your professors. Make a plan to finish the program in conjunction with your professors. This not only shows that you are serious about finishing the program but demonstrates that you are more valuable as a PhD holder than as a PhD student.

    5. Don't Work while in a PhD Program: Finances are one aspect of life that often impedes a potential PhD student from entering a program. Find a way to get funded so you can be a full-time rather than part-time doctoral student.

    6. Become Familiar with the top Journals in your Field: Without a working knowledge of your field's most recent advances, you will be at a disadvantage when it comes time to complete a dissertation and when you graduate and start interviewing. Don't wait until the end of your program to become familiar with your own field of study.

    7. Keep a Research Journal: Most doctoral programs require their students to read an insurmountable number of papers and texts. If you find a subject you like that may turn into a dissertation topic, keep a record in a journal of your ideas and the papers that support your potential topic. Don't reinvent the wheel at dissertation time when you have to develop a topic.

    8. Be on the Look-Out for a Dissertation Topic: Don't wait to the last minute to start developing a dissertation topic; that should be on your mind from day one. As a professional copy editor who specializes in academic papers including dissertations, I've seen doctoral students struggle for months looking for a good dissertation topic. If you already have one by the time you need it, you are ahead of the game. In fact, develop one over time with someone who may become your dissertation chair. This way, it won't be a surprise to him/her either.

    9. Select a Good Dissertation Chair: Next to motivation and perseverance, selecting a good dissertation is one of the best predictors of whether you will finish a PhD program. Be sure to select a dissertation chair that you can work with, not necessarily one whose research is closest to your own.

    10. Schedule Face Time at your University: Many doctoral students disappear over summer and winter breaks only to resurface when they need something from their professors. Remember the old adage: Out of sight, out of mind. Make sure you visit the university from time to time so your professors don't forget about you. This is one of the simplest things you can do to ensure you earn your PhD on time.