The Extra Mile

During my PhD I didn’t have to extend my algorithm to consider the HOMFLY polynomial…

…but I thought it was more useful than just writing it was possible in a discussion section.

I didn’t have to produce tables of plait presentations in my thesis…

…but I knew that no-one else had done it before and thought it might be helpful to someone.

When have you gone the extra mile in your PhD? When have you done something, big or small, that maybe wasn’t essential but which helped?

Make a list of what and why. Don’t play them down. They can show others your drive to do something valuable for your field.


A PhD takes a long time, and there can be periods where you feel like not much progress is being made. Weeks and months can pass with what feels like little to show for it. Taking a step back can help you to see the fantastic achievements you’ve accomplished. Here are some questions to reflect on as you get towards the end of your PhD:

  • When did you first show your supervisor something you were really proud of?
  • When did you give your first presentation about your work?
  • When did you first read a paper and think, “I can do this!”?
  • When did you get your first thrill at finding something that no-one else ever had?
  • When did you write the first draft of a chapter?
  • When did you realise that you were going to succeed?

Marking your achievements is a useful source of confidence, particularly if your viva is coming up. Go a step further: reflect on how you felt, what you did and think about what further achievements these milestones lead you to. You’ve come this far by hard work, not luck.