How should I define 'essential' and 'non-essential' activities: archival research, investigation of secondary sources, conferences, organising and/or attending seminars, etc. What is relevant and irrelevant for my PhD and my CV?
* This is a process of self-negotiation – there is no algorithm. All these activities are important. Doing a PhD is training for a profession, and upon its completion you should be poised to have some shot at getting a job. Some publication will improve your chances. You must become as well-known as possible so that, for example, letters from referees will be informal and more convincing.
* Although all these activities are important, they should run in parallel, not in series. You should not read everything before you write. Revise as you go along. Don't fear the writing stage!
* Don't attend conferences and give papers if this will take you away from your thesis. MPhil essays can be the source of good conference papers. Do attend conferences and give papers of relevance to your PhD; they can be a source of very useful deadlines.
* Do read widely in the first year of your PhD. You need a broad background for your work; you never know where you'll find useful information and ideas; and later on you'll be far too busy to read around.
* Do attend lectures in other departments (particularly in your first year): they can be a very valuable source of new ideas and inspiration.
* Especially for historians: At an early stage, discuss with your supervisor the resources you'll need. In many cases proper planning of your research is impossible until you know precisely where the relevant archives (or instruments) are located, in what languages, etc.
* Cambridge HPS PhDs are unusual. Many departments – in Holland or the US, for example – do not suppose that after nine months of a taught masters course you are simply to be left alone with your supervisor and advisor to write a PhD. Here, everything after your Masters is self-directed and informal.
* However, HPS is idiosyncratic in the number of seminars, colloquia and supervision demands placed upon graduates. The doctoral programme may be relatively informal – but is baroque in other terms.
* Remember that much of the literature is written by professionals who have been working on your topic for a long time. To avoid perfectionism, go to conferences, look at recent PhD dissertations, and read really bad writing.
* Manage the teaching load you take on! Keep your supervisor informed on what your teaching commitments are and take their advice as to what to take on...