How to survive your 2nd year as PhD Student

How to survive your 2nd year as a PhD student

Here is a quick overview of yesterday’s training course, organised by and delivered by the fantastic Dr Jim Boran (Researcher Developer Manager, University of Manchester @whalesense) and Dr Victoria Sheppard (Researcher Developer Coordinator, University of Salford, @vishepp).

The purpose was to boost the confidence of those of us who are full-time in the second year of our PhD. Here’s a rundown of the questions we asked ourselves:

How does the 2nd year feel?

Personally, I feel that I cant see wood for the trees!


“In The Wood” by MarcoHeisler at

Other descriptions included – “Too far in to stop” “Reality sinking in” “I’m an academic teenager: -acting out!” “Middle-of-anything blues”

Where are you on the PhD mountain?

We were asked to draw a mountain – and where we are on the mountain. My image was of a tunnel: I feel like I’m finding my way under a mountain, and am now stuck half-way through, where it’s cold, dark and lonely!


“A Tunnel To… ” by Mamophoto

What advice would supervisors give someone starting their 2nd year?

– Read in an organised way 1-2 articles per week

– Start writing as early as possible

– Be clear about defending each sentence in what you write – defensibility starts in the 2nd year

– Is lack of time the issues – or is it lack of motivation?

What advice would supervisors give someone starting their 2nd year?

– Don’t prevaricate – just do it!

– Keep perspective – don’t live to work, work to live

– Read continuously – maintain a current literature review

– Manage your supervisors

What is your research question and your hypothesis?

Quite a few of us struggled to succinctly verbally explain our research question and hypothesis. This was where submitting papers, and routinely explaining the nature of my research to outsiders has helped me.

What is a thesis?

We reviewed the four main thesis type and how our research could fit into one – or none of the them! – The final work should create “sympathy for the reader”: an examiner has 80,000 words to read, so we should make it easy for them to read.

Thesis Regulations

We discussed the importance of knowing your thesis regulations, including the marking structure. We were also reassured that the best research is rarely done in your PhD, and that the contribution to knowledge does not need to be dauntingly huge. Thesis Whisperer has a good post on being realistic about your contribution to new academic knowledge

Managing the Doctoral Process

  1. Is everything you are doing taking you towards the end of the project?
  2. Where is your plan?
  3. How does your supervisory balance look?
  4. When was the last time you wrote something?
  5. Who is in your support network?

Finally, we completed a project plan, to help us plan the remainder of the year. We left, feeling energised, uplifted and ready to climb the mountain…

Mount Everest Zig Ziglar

“Climbing a Mountain” by Zig Ziglar via

What are your reflections on Year 2? What advice would you give Year 2 PhD students?


What the future holds for Manchester’s family businesses

Great Manchester Business Conference

The Great Manchester Business Conference on Friday March 6th 2015 was a busy, content-packed day, outlining the trends and opportunities for Greater Manchester’s businesses in the next few years. Here’s my take on what the future holds for family firms:


Sir Howard Bernstein outlined the huge impact of devolution to a Greater Manchester combined authority: Manchester will take control over a single budget for housing, health and transport. For firms whose staff live and work within Manchester, improved commuting could be an early win. Many family firms employ older people and with better healthcare resulting in even more workers being fit and healthy beyond the traditional retirement age. Improved housing means that more students and those seeking work will be able to move to Manchester to find jobs, meaning a larger skills pool for family firms looking to recruit.


The irrepressible Wayne Jones, Chair of Stockport Economic Alliance and champion of manufacturing, reminded us that “products are make in a factory; brands are made in your mind”. Family firms need to promote their unique brand to customers, suppliers and end-users if they are going to retain a competitive edge in a highly globalised and competitive industry.

Family firms should take advantage of the increased government funding for innovation in Greater Manchester Manufacturing Strategy and the trend for reshoring described in the Alliance Report on textile manufacturing. Technological innovation, close understanding of customer requirements and responding quickly to requests for new products will be crucial for survival.


Family firms in the tourism industry could take advantage of an increase in hotel beds from 8.5K to 9.2K in the next two years. Tourists from China and the UAE continue to increase, to the extent that Manchester is now the number 1 shopping destination outside London. Family firms in the restaurant business, looking to expand a known offering, will do well in Manchester.


The Manchester Corridor and Manchester Science Park continue to offer an agglomeration of skills and financing for family firms in the high-tech industry. Microsoft’s speech recognition and translation software will make internationalisation easier for family firms who do not speak other languages. The megatrends of big data, social engagement, mobile users and cloud computing will continue. Family firms who underestimate the potential of their young employees and customers will be left behind.


Family firms can take advantage of an increasing number of financial products: Urica as an alternative to invoice financing, the British Business Bank for firms who want to grow. While the banks speaking at the event seemed to think there were plenty of products and clear signposting for SMEs, the businesses themselves were not convinced.

John Ashcroft and Steph McGovern

John Ashcroft from GMCC and Steph McGovern from the BBC – our hosts for the day

In conclusion, the future is bright for family firms who can provide high quality, scaleable products and who are able to respond quickly to technological change.