University of Portsmouth's History Blog

PhD by Publication – Top tips from an award-winning UoP history graduate student

The collier, from George Walker, The Costume of Yorkshire (1813)

The collier, from George Walker, The Costume of Yorkshire (1813)


Anthony Annakin-Smith is a local historian with a diverse range of interests focused on maritime and industrial history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Anthony was awarded the PhD by Publication from the University of Portsmouth in 2022 for his work on The Neston Collieries, 1759-1855: an Industrial Revolution in Rural Cheshire. The collieries date from the eighteenth century, when the main colliery was owned by local magnates the Stanley family, and were more successful than its better-known contemporaries in nearby south-west Lancashire and North Wales. It was the first large industrial site in west Cheshire and introduced the area’s earliest steam engine. Anthony’s supervisors for his doctorate were UoP history lecturers Dr Mike Esbester and Dr Karl Bell.  His Commentary in association with his published work were awarded the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s Dissertation Prize for 2023. To read more about Anthony’s research click here.

The process of undertaking a PhD by publication can be pretty daunting. Where to start? What will the examiners be looking for? Do I just re-hash the work I’ve already done?

As a PhD by Publication is a relatively unusual approach to a doctorate there is little guidance ‘out there’. Of course, your supervisors will give you plenty of support but I found it still took me quite a while – too long! – to get into the right mindset. In the end my work paid off  – I got the doctorate (passing the viva without corrections) and, to boot, later received the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s Dissertation Prize. It seems, then, that I ultimately ‘got’ what the PhD by Publication is all about. As such, here’s a list of tips covering things I learnt along the way which may be of use to others.

  • Start with your goal in mind. I focused on the wording in UoP’s ‘What is a PhD by Publication?’ which suggests you should be able to demonstrate your work’s ‘coherence, significance and contribution to knowledge’.
  • Read other PhD by Publication Commentaries to give you ideas about structure, concepts, language etc. but …
  • … don’t use others’ work as a straitjacket. This is your work so use a structure and approach that best suit your work and your goals.
  • Step back from your published work. You are not meant simply to repeat your findings but instead to scrutinise them from new perspectives. I found myself discussing concepts in the Commentary that never featured (and didn’t need to) in the published work.
  • Have regular meetings with your supervisors (online in my case). This is obvious but needs stating. Agree a schedule and/or meeting frequency with them. Not only is the discussion at the meetings beneficial but the planned dates gives a point of focus for prior drafting and submission as well as for preparing questions you may have.
  • Have confidence in your work and opinions Listen to what your supervisors say and consider their verbal and written comments carefully. However, ultimately it’s your Commentary based on your publication(s) so don’t fret too much about dealing with every point they make –  it’s OK to disagree or ignore points if you feel it’s justified.
  • Maximise use of the UoP Library. While there are plenty of online resources in the library, as a remote student who never even visited Portsmouth, I also made much use of the facility for physical books to be posted. This was quick, easy and very helpful.
  • Use resources elsewhere. UoP Library did not have access to everything I needed so I also used resources from another academic library to which I had routine access as well as making day-visits to other institutions.
  • Make use of reviews. Your publication(s) has/have probably been reviewed publicly in journals or elsewhere. Use insights from those reviews and leverage them to give independent authority to what you have to say.
  • Have a mock viva. This was very useful for highlighting potential lines of questioning as well as the style of the real thing.
  • Prepare for your viva well. I spent ages preparing answers to a myriad of potential questions, prompted both by the mock viva and by my own thoughts. In retrospect I probably over-prepared but the approach gave me confidence for the examination.
  • The viva is not as scary as you might expect (the need to ‘defend’ my work always worried me; it suggested I would be facing a bank of aggressive questioners looking to trip me up!). It was nothing like that and I was really surprised to find that I actually enjoyed it. I very definitely had not anticipated that!



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