Basic data-mining tips for PhD computer-phobes

Organizing and Managing Your Research
August 10, 2007

When I began my own PhD, part-time, the range of study guides and textbooks for helping to manage the research process was limited. Most of the students in my year had a copy of Estelle Phillips and Derek Pugh's tried and tested How to Get a PhD . Those of us who liked to think laterally and who wanted to get a sense of what it felt like to be "on the other side of the fence" also had Supervising the PhD: A Guide to Success , by Sara Delamont, Paul Atkinson and Parry Odette - and that was about it.

By the time I graduated in 2002, the range of books was rapidly beginning to expand. Rowena Murray's How to Write a Thesis hit the shelves, and many of those in my year bemoaned the fact that this very useful text hadn't been written when we started our studies. More guides followed, and now students face a healthy choice to suit most, if not all, situations.

Organizing and Managing Your Research: A Practical Guide for Postgraduates thus joins a growing throng of study guides, and it will certainly be useful to particular groups of students, especially PhD researchers who suffer from computer phobia. Let me explain. My first point about this book relates to its title, which encompasses everyone on a "postgraduate" course. The authors qualify this statement by suggesting that it is essential reading for "research students and professional researchers", a description that is nearer the mark.

The main feature of this book is the level of detail it draws on when giving advice about organising your research electronically. I suspect that the authors had a particular group of readers in mind when they wrote, which was not as general as the title implies. First, the book will be far more useful to doctoral students than it will to other groups because PhD students handle much bigger projects and collections of data than do masters students. In this context, it is fair to suggest that researchers and doctoral students who want to improve their organisational skills will find this book helpful.

Some will skim through the advice on computers and home in on the detailed and practical guidance on time and data management that is particularly relevant if you are managing big projects over a long time-frame, perhaps as a part time PhD student combining research with paid work over a four to seven-year period.

There is, however, one group of readers who would find this book invaluable. This includes anyone unfamiliar with (or terrified of) the electronic resource. Computer-phobic researchers are often hidden from view because everyone expects students to be closely acquainted with networked resources. This makes it difficult for anyone to admit that they have never used a "web based resource", and that they don't know where to begin. But I am sure such students are out there.

Even for those who know what a mouse is, existing software help manuals tend to be difficult to read and assume a level of familiarity that may not exist.

Organizing and Managing your Research , however, assumes a low level of electronic comfort and really goes back to basics in its simply and clearly explained descriptions of networking fundamentals, how to save changes to documents and how to use a search engine.

So if you are a researcher who is not confident about computer-based research and who doesn't know how to use Google or the electronic library database, this is definitely the book for you.

Caroline Gatrell is a lecturer in management learning and leadership at Lancaster University Management School.

Organizing and Managing Your Research: A Practical Guide for Postgraduates

Author - Renata Phelps, Kath Fisher and Allan Ellis
Publisher - Sage
Pages - 304
Price - £60.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 9781412920636 and 20643

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