How to get a PhD
These informal suggestions come from students and members of staff attending previous meetings of the PhD workshop. For the regulations governing the PhD you should consult the Graduate Handbook (PDF file).
HPS PhDs cover such a broad range of possible topics that anything more than general advice is bound to be ad hominem. In the first few meetings with your supervisor, a relatively full account of research should be extracted. PhD topics are always revised massively and amazingly fast...
Scope, form, topic
* You need to end up with a project that is interesting and on a thesis-sized topic. A thesis-sized topic should be something that can be achieved within three years.
* There is always a danger, especially in history theses, that you will put off defining the topic until you know more about it. Don't keep an ideal, multivalent thesis in mind as a model, and in so doing delay making clear statements of your thesis. A thesis is not a utopian project.
* While looking at material, you will come up with original ideas. As you re-think your topic, ensure that these new ideas inform the major organisation of your thesis, not minor. This should take place throughout the first year or year-and-a-half. The longer you leave this, the more problematic such structuring work becomes.
* It is a good idea to keep a dynamic outline of your PhD as you go along.
* It is a big plus for a thesis to have a thesis. It should not be just an exploration of a region of intellectual terrain. Specify and define your case.
* Do not overexaggerate the scale of the project that you are undertaking. Do not take a big book as your model; take a substantial article that does a workmanlike job in your area. A thesis is two or three good articles with supporting and contextual material that evidences your competence in your area.
* The thesis should, according to examiners' criteria, be sufficient to serve as a basis for one monograph or two substantial articles. And whilst your examiners are your ultimate audience, it is worth trying to make your PhD interesting to a wider audience – this will make it easier, if ever, to turn it into a book.
* The classical structure for a PhD tends to be six to eight chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. This functions as a kind of strange attractor to doctoral students. Consider whether this structure is the right one – in at least two recent cases, the imposition of such a structure led to a large number of conceptual problems which were resolved by losing this format. For example, a recent thesis was improved vastly by breaking it into 25 chapters. Although supervisions are often arranged around chapters, don't assume that a unit equals one chapter.
* Avoid having chapters of radically different lengths.http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/students/training/getaphd.html