1. Your thesis should be your most important academic priority, but it can be enhanced by engaging in other academic activities.
A high quality PhD completed on time is vital, but it is often useful to have experience of (for example) publishing, attending conferences, and teaching. With the right balance, these will enhance your thesis, help you locate it in the wider scholarly field, and enable you to present it effectively. These activities also provide excellent transferable skills.
2. Good PhD students are aware of the wider field, not just their own patch of territory.
This is where teaching and going to conferences and seminars can be helpful, in moderation. They make you aware of other scholarship pertinent to your research – especially unpublished work – and might provide some leads or different perspectives. Teaching also demonstrates, like nothing else, what is and is not effective for getting your point across.
3. Some of the best research is serendipitous.
Targeted searches in archives, libraries, and online resources are effective and quick for finding what you know is there. But spend some spare moments browsing shelves, flicking through journals, or checking what else is in the volume or box of papers you ordered – this can yield surprising results.
4. Be aware of finite time.
Three years sounds vast, but time is the most precious academic commodity, and it will soon seem scarce. Factor in time for editing as well as writing; for checking references as well as going to archives; plan when might be best in the course of the thesis to undertake other academic activities (probably not in the final stages). Engage with the wider community through research events, but avoid getting sidetracked by too many conference papers or excessive teaching. On a smaller scale, be aware of what daily and weekly work pattern is best for you – get into a routine, and don’t worry if yours is different from other people’s.
5. Don’t despair if you encounter difficulties.
Occasionally you may experience problems with research or writing, or in trying to formulate the structure of the thesis. These issues can lead to frustration, but remember they are not unusual – it would be a rare scholar who has never encountered them at some point. Talk to supervisors and mentors about strategies to overcome these challenges. Remember too the importance of work-life balance; time off is healthy, and often it is when you stand back from the detail that ideas come.
Dr Gareth Atkins (Secretary, 2014- ) writes:
No-one working on modernity should be put off by the word 'ecclesiastical'!
Ever since I joined the EHS as a postgraduate in 2006 I've been continually struck by the breadth and depth of its activities. The range of papers on offer was and still is awesome; so too the scholars it attracts, from those – like me – giving their earliest papers to those at the very top of their profession, and ranging from historians to theologians, literary scholars, and those working on the visual arts and material culture of belief. In short, the EHS is a society with an international reputation and membership, weighty publications, and punchy events. It offers important benefits for postgraduate and early career scholars: priceless chances to meet familiar and unfamiliar names, opportunities to present work to a variety of audiences, and, not least, generous bursaries. And it is fun: joining the EHS has resulted in many friendships as well as stimulating debate and discussion