MAs and PhDs require as well as offer the opportunity to develop two different basic skills as far as time management is concerned.
The aim of taught postgraduate courses is to endow students with critical and technical tools, rather than simply convey some new pieces of information to them. If you have already completed a Masters course successfully, you are therefore expected to
as well as to be able to
All taught Masters have mid-term deadlines already set; you do not have to fix them. However, there is a certain amount of 'freedom' within a Masters course as you are usually meant to produce a larger piece of writing at the end of the year, so you will need to think ahead in more independent ways of how to fulfill this assignment, too. If you want to meet all deadlines, you will find it helpful to devise a timetable of your own that takes into account
Let's assume that your MA course is subdivided into three terms and the summer, each of the three terms requiring attendance of lessons and seminars, in addition to the submission of an thesis at the end of the academic year:
on course A
on course B
on course C
on the topic you chose
(and, in some cases, viva)
How can you combine your timetable with this schedule?
It is very tempting simply to deal with individual courses in individual terms, but how can you possibly complete the final dissertation in three months if you are used to spending the same amount of time on writing a short essay? Always keep in mind the larger picture - your long-term deadlines included - even when you are dealing with specific intermediate assignments.
The first step in order to prepare an effective timetable does not concern time at all, but objectives, that is, their clear definition. A Masters course is not just the sum of three or four essays, it is a path which aims to provide students with the tools they need to submit a successful final dissertation, that is, their first piece of proper research. In this way the time you originally reserved for your final dissertation should be automatically multiplied by two or three times, since at the beginning of the fourth term you should have at your disposal the vast majority of the pieces of information and methodologies which your dissertation requires.
Breaking down your tasks
The same attention to your objectives has to be taken over each section of your timetable. As already suggested, the fact that some deadlines are already set by your course outline does not imply you need not break down this timetable defining smaller and personal task-related timetables.
Be practical in devising your personal timetable: plan backwards! Determine how much time you will have left to dedicate to a specific essay when your week is busy with a certain number of lectures and seminars, and then make the most of what you have. If your course is full-time, consider what is the expectation of additional independent study on top of your classes. What is the maximum time you can allow yourself to spend on reading and researching when you have met all the other deadlines?
Take into account the need to:
The more long-term your research engagement, the clearer and more realistic your objectives will have to be. Unclear and unrealistic goals, necessarily implying the continuous reshaping of research, are the main reason that many students fail to complete their research within the allotted time. Let's therefore try to set clear and realistic goals, taking into consideration their relevance to your specific research as well as to your general training as a researcher and distribute them along your PhD timetable.
For example the Research Councils' Graduate Schools Programme suggests that you break down your research into semesters in the following way:
6 months: survey literature and learn to use relevant tools
12 months: deepen understanding of the 'problem' and devise solutions
18 months (halfway!): engrossed in research
24 months: begin to wind up data collection
30 months: complete solution and review recent literature
36 months: written thesis, ready for viva
Each semester will be, in turn, subdivided into segments of different length according to the complexity of the task you intend to carry out in that period. Planning your research on the basis of single tasks (and, as a consequence, on the basis of short periods of research) will allow you to
verify and measure your own progress more easily
apply a methodological tool you can rely on, since you have already exploited it during your preliminary postgraduate activity
Time management issues specific to PhD research: