Road Mapping 

I wish I understood better what the road map is, specially being an international student not knowing Ireland’s educational system. Road map of whether, how do we get evaluated, what are the different landmarks along the way? (…) That kind of thing that might be already known to Irish students, but they are not known to me. You know the Viva, everything leading up to the all the different steps. (Miriam Phillips, PhD student, 2020)

Depending on your programme, 3 or 4 years stretch out in front of you. This tool will help you structure your time, keep focus, and make the most of it: you will identify the various milestones along the way and design a road map suitable for your particular project and programme. Your goal is to have a flexible baseline to keep track of progress, which you will adapt as the project advances. 

Studying for a PhD Part-time

If you are studying part-time (for 6 to 8 years) it is even more important to ensure you have a regular structure of deliverables within your PhD. You are likely to be juggling several responsibilities in parallel with your studies: prioritise finding time for your research. Ensure you build in time in your schedule for focused doctoral work, as your studies can easily become something you do around your job or other responsibilities, which can lead to losing motivation and purpose. Think about the times of the day that are best for you to study, build blocks of work in your diary, negotiate with your manager a slightly different schedule if that is possible to ensure you have research time when you are rested. To build your Road Map, discuss with your supervisor what is appropriate for each stage. 

Make a guess at the structure of your PhD, and that then gives you check points to change that structure as you go along, if necessary. (PhD student, 2020)

Building your Road Map

Write down your doctoral milestones in the PhD-Milestones-Sheet as you work through this exercise. To set out initial milestones, let’s consider writing and creative practice one at the time: 

Written Thesis Roadmap

Begin by thinking about your thesis submission, which may change as the project evolves:

  • Thesis word count: what is the expected word length for the written part of your submission in your institution? If there is none provided, decide on a preliminary word length target in consultation with your supervisory team.
  • Thesis structure: what potential thesis structure would suit your project? Consider whether your thesis might be organised by project or by theme, follow a traditional structure, or an alternative one. A traditional thesis structure looks like this:

1) Introduction 

2) Literature Review

3) Methodology

4) Description of Practice / Case studies / Performances / Projects / Processes

5) Discussion / Analysis

6) Conclusion. 

Look at theses in your field for examples of how other students structured their work. Review PhD submissions of graduates from your programme in the library. You can also find a range of artistic doctoral thesis on EThOS, the British Library repository of PhDs awarded by higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, which has a long tradition of artistic doctorates. Read the abstract for an overview of the research, review the table of contents, and skim through the introduction, which often tells the reader how the manuscript is organised and what each chapter entails. Notice that each project is different, and what might work for one, may not be appropriate for other. At this initial stage, you want to devise a general structure or scaffolding for your project to help you organise your work. You are not focusing on content yet, just building the blocks. This will change as your project evolves.

  • Words per chapter: considering the word length, and your proposed thesis structure, how many words will each chapter entail approximately? Think about the weight of different sections and distribute the number of words per chapter. Having a figure in mind can help you structure your writing and know how much to write and when. For a traditional thesis structure with 40.000 words, a suggestion could be the following word count:

1) Introduction, 6.000 words.

2) Literature Review, 6.000 words.

3) Methodology, 7.000 words.

4) Description 7.000 words.

5) Discussion, 8.000 words.

6) Conclusion, 6.000 words. 

  • Now, let’s put all the writing components in your calendar. Download the PhD-Road-Map-Template and adapt it to your needs. Start by inputting your institution’s deadlines and any associated requirements: it is normal practice that Artistic Research PhD students complete an Annual Review and/or a progress report, which is likely to include a presentation, sharing of work in progress, a chapter, a plan of work, and/or progress to date (the exact requirements for your course should be outlined in the Handbook). Include those in the calendar and block out time to complete them. Next, looking at your thesis structure and chapters, make a plan, and write down provisional dates for submission drafts of each chapter in the calendar. 

Now you have an idea of the amount of writing you need to do by which date. Breaking the work in smaller parts helps you focus on one milestone at the time. 

Creative Practice Roadmap

You set out some milestones and a structure for your writing. How might you do the same for your practice? The creative process is often iterative, unpredictable, circular, non-linear, and can be challenging to structure. However, you can create the conditions to make this process manageable:

  • Taking into account your research project, your institutional resources / facilities / support, and your submission requirements, can you quantify your artistic production? For example, are you planning to make 3 performances of 30 minutes each, 2 plays of 2h each, 5 installations, 6 short-films? This is often difficult to predict at the start of the journey, but after your first year you may have a clearer idea. Regardless, imagining a framework – and you are a creative thinker – is an important way to ensure structure happens. At this stage, you want to organise your calendar, even if you don’t know yet how the projects will develop. 
  • Block out appropriate time, space, and resources. Take into consideration your own creative process: if for example, you think you are going to develop 4 projects, do you need to block 2, 4, 8 weeks to complete each? What resources will you need to put in place for that time period? Include planning and project management time to secure the necessary equipment / materials / resources. 
Integrating your Roadmaps

Now, articulate the time blocked for practice, with the time blocked for writing. Do you need to shift things around to make space for them to build into or to feed into each other? Revise your plan, and make sure you include reflection time in between.

Time for Reflection

Discuss your proposed plan with your supervisor to ensure it is realistic and achievable. Your plan can be as detailed or as wide as you need. As the project progresses, you can revisit it regularly, adapt, and work in more detail.

The power of making a plan is to change that plan. 

Your plan is a strategy to structure your time and help you achieve your goals. It WILL change. The very nature of an Artistic Research project means that practicing, showing your work, and writing inform one another in constant dialogue. 


Click below to download the Road Map Pack which includes this Road Map (pdf), a Milestones Sheet (word) and a Calendar Template (excel):

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