James Hayton opens his book – simply titled PhD – with an admission of being a sort of accidental PhD student, using what he was told in one failed admission interview to game the next one. I appreciate his honesty. Where he succeeds in this book, subtitled an “uncommon guide to research, writing, & PhD life” is offering both practical strategies and also a reasoned understanding of human nature, citing Daniel Kahneman’s excellent Thinking Fast and Slow (which should be on everyone’s required reading list) as one of his major influences. Even though his PhD was in applied physics, Hayton did a nice job generalizing his experience and what he learned about the process of PhD study so that it applies to other fields.
His thoughts on skill development during a PhD are probably the best part of the book, as are his perspectives on what earning a PhD actually means rather than what people often imagine it to mean. He gently disagrees with some ideas like writing garbage and fixing it later and offers alternatives.
Many of the other ideas he shares are not new per se (e.g., cut off internet access), but he wraps them together in a slim and accessible volume. The first two-thirds of the book cover bigger-picture issues like research, academic literature, academic writing, publishing, and conferences. The final third of the book focuses specifically on writing a dissertation or thesis, building on earlier ideas in the book.
The book suffers from a handful of editing mishaps – an irony considering Hayton’s insistence on relatively careful writing and the editing process – and it was much less comprehensive than other books in this genre like Getting What You Came For by Robert Peters. I think the US $30 list price was a bit of a stretch considering it’s a small, short book with very wide margins, but it’s certainly worth US $13 if you are pursuing a PhD.