Plan Your PhD

This is very simple rule “if you do not plan, you actually plan to fail”. I have observed that the management is the most common knowledge that we apply in our daily lives. We consciously or sub-consciously plan and execute our routine tasks. However, we can learn and apply better planning and management tools these days. PhD is the solo target objective of PhD scholars, thus, it need better planning and management. Today’s PhD scholars will be university faculty members tomorrow. In a time of extreme and continuously increasing competition, the rules of Quality apply to your PhD studies. Two most common features of a quality PhD could be well in time and standard (a parameter of number and quality of publications) degree.

Higher Education Commission (HEC) has adopted revised criteria for faculty appointment in universities. At the moment, HEC is using two parallel criteria (,%20IT,%20and%20Computing%20discplines_July_2013.pdf ); 1st one based on total years of experience and 2nd one based on post PhD experience.  Fresh PhDs can be appointed as Assistant Professors without any experience. However to be Associate Professor, one needs to possess either 10 years of total experience with 10 publications in at least HEC recognized journals or 5 years of post PhD experience. Similarly to be a Professor, one needs to possess either 15 years of total experience with 15 publications in at least HEC recognized journals or 10 years of post PhD experience.

However HEC has intended to revise its criteria from 2020 where to be an Associate Professor, one needs to possess either 10 years of total experience (out of which at least 4 years should be post PhD) with 10 publications in at least HEC recognized journals or 5 years of post PhD experience. Similarly to be a Professor, one needs to possess either 15 years of total experience (out of which at least 8 years should be post PhD) with 15 publications in at least HEC recognized journals or 10 years of post PhD experience. In this revised scenario, the pre PhD experience will become less valuable. Only those PhD scholars will get great benefit of timely vertical promotion who will finish their PhDs as early as possible. So, if you want to complete your PhD degree, you need to properly plan and execute your tasks during PhD time flow.

  1. PhD time flow

The time duration of PhD varies from 3-7 years in Pakistan. In order to better understand the structure of your PhD degree and requirements, you need to know all of the rules applicable to you. Usually, each university in Pakistan has developed and implements its own rules for the award of PhD degree in line with HEC guidelines. The minimum time period to finish your PhD is three years. But, the biggest question is that whether you finish it in three years or extend it till the last chance (7th year). We can simply divide different tasks and fit them into 3 years (as an ideal option).

Year 1

As a PhD scholar, you have to complete 18 credit hours course work as per HEC guideline. For better execution of your PhD, you can span your coursework on first two semesters. Coursework is a full time task that includes attending classes/labs, assignments and examinations. It becomes really hard to move your research and coursework in parallel. So, it is always better if you focus on your coursework during your first year of PhD and fix them as per degree requirement (maintain minimum CGPA). Besides coursework, you also need to enroll/deliver seminar as a mandatory requirement. Meanwhile, you must know that when you have to submit and defend your synopsis (university defined timeline). Usually, you need to choose your supervisor (it will be discussed in future blogs) during the first semester and discuss about the potential research topic (see my previous blogs). Besides your routine coursework, you should start literature review and keep your supervisor updated about your readings. This literature review should be classic and of high quality so that it may not only become Literature Review chapter of your PhD synopsis/thesis but it should also be published as a quality Review Article on the topic. Based on your literature review, you should prepare first draft of your synopsis before the start of your second semester. Once you complete your coursework, you are required to pass comprehensive (both written/oral) exams to qualify for synopsis defense. Please, understand that each of the following activity is bound with the previous activity. So, any delay in a pre-requisite activity (completion of course work) will delay the following activities (comprehensive exam/synopsis defense). Besides these activities, you should also conduct your skill audit (, and  prepare a skills set along with skills level that you will ensure and achieve by the end of first year of PhD e.g. presentation skills, research writing skills, experimental design and statistics, time management etc.


Fig 1: PhD time flow for 3 years

Year 2

Once you successfully defend your synopsis, you will become eligible to apply for HEC International Research Support Initiative Program (IRSIP). Under this IRSIP (, you can go to any research group in top 200 universities of the world to carry out your PhD research. HEC funds your return tickets, six month stipend and bench fee for your foreign supervisor. IRSISP is a wonderful opportunity for PhD scholars to complete their PhD in 3 years. However, you need a better planning to have successful IRSIP research stay. I would suggest you to apply for IRSIP as soon as possible. To have successful IRSIP, you need to follow these steps:

  1. IRSIP supervisor

Choose your IRSIP supervisor carefully. Your local supervisor can help you in this regard. Your IRSIP supervisor should be employed at top 200 universities of the world as per QS ranking ( It can be a good idea if you involve your IRSIP supervisor as your co-supervisor because then he can guide you during synopsis preparation stage. It will increase his ownership towards your PhD. Your potential supervisor should have a good name and good research lab in the area of your research. This advantage will provide you quality supervision as well as good lab facilities to complete your research experiments well in time. Moreover, your IRSIP supervisor will polish the quality of your research publications.

  • IRSIP research stay  

HEC only funds your IRSIP stay for six months. However, we have seen several examples where IRSIP supervisor funds IRSIP scholars due to the dedication and hard work of the scholar. Therefore, it is a good idea to extend your IRSIP stay as much as possible for you. In case your IRSIP supervisor does not have any project money to extend your stay, you may request your supervisor to convert his bench fee into your monthly stipend. This practice may extend your research stay up to four months. However, the second option entirely depends on your IRSIP supervisor if he agrees to spare his bench fee. The only way to extension is your great commitment and hard work. The great part of IRSIP research stay is that you will have excellent lab facilities (equipment and consumables) which are always a bottleneck in Pakistan. Consequently, you will be able to carry out good number of experiments in limited time.

  • Publications

The quality of your PhD will be counted on the basis of number as well as quality of your publications out of your PhD thesis. So, you need to understand this principle quite well that you have to publish good research. During your IRSIP stay, you need to publish each of your complete experiment before starting a new experiment. Normally, PhD scholars rush to produce huge research data, and bring this data with them to Pakistan. However, I suggest doing otherwise. After completing your research experiment, start working on your manuscript. Once you prepare first draft, handover it to your IRSIP supervisor and go for next experiment. You will see that before you finish your second experiment, your first manuscript will be ready for submission, and hopefully when you will complete your IRSIP stay, you will have few published research papers to your credit. Meanwhile, you will be able to receive good review input from your IRSIP supervisor both in terms of quality of research as well as quality manuscript language.

  • Future career

As PhD graduate, you have to face several foreign qualified PhD graduates for faculty positions in Pakistan. Irony, foreign vs local PhD bias exists in Pakistan. So, you need to overcome this biasness through your IRSIP and good foreign Postdoc. Always remember, IRSIP will open future career windows for you. I have noticed several examples where IRSIP supervisors willingly employed visiting PhD scholars as their future Postdoc fellows. Again, it will depend on the way you work and behave during your IRSIP stay. Your commitment and dedication can result in a good career lead for you.

    PLan your PhD

Fig 2: Tentative 3 years PhD Plan

Year 3

At the start of 5th semester, you should combine your research results and start preparing your PhD defense. Once you successfully defend your thesis, you need to start writing your thesis. Your published research papers will greatly help you to accomplish this task in timely manner. Once you complete your thesis, you can send to your local and IRSIP supervisors for their feedback. Incorporate their comments, and once they say “go ahead” then submit your thesis for foreign evaluation by the end of 5th semester. The foreign evaluation and incorporation of comments normally take 3-4 months.

This PhD plan seems very ambitious but it is still doable. This is sample PhD plan; you may change/modify it as per your subject and circumstances. Your planning and execution will deeply affect your future career.


Published by

Dr. M. Saif Ur Rehman

Dr. Muhammad Saif Ur Rehman is currently working as an Assistant Professor-Chemical Engineering at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Lahore. I am a graduate Chemical Engineer from Punjab University. I further hold M. Sc Applied Environmental Science (PU), MS in Quality in Analytical Labs (Portugal/Norway), PhD in Environmental Engineering (Biofuel Technology) from Korea Advanced Institute for Science & Technology, South Korea. I am an Erasmus Mundus Scholar, and KAIST-ABC Scholar. I have been awarded with Green Talent Award 2014 by Federal Ministry for Education & Research Germany based on my research contribution in the areas of sustainable development and environmental conservation. I have been awarded with Award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Environmental Management 2017 in the category of Best Research. I have published 37 papers in impact factor journals, and my accumulative IF = 136.365 with h-index =15. I won won HEC NRPU Research project on microalgal-advanced oxidation process for textile wastewater treatment worth Rs. 20 million. I have been certified in Scientific Research Writing and Communication from Elsevier Publishing Campus, Springer Author Academy, AthorAID, and Research Academy of Leipzig, Germany. I worked as a Visiting Scientist at Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Germany. I completed my Postdoctoral Fellowship at Biorefinery Engineering Group, Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing under Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) President International Fellowship Initiative 2016-2018. Currently, I am working at Biochemical Engineering Research Center, School of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering, Anhui University of Technology, Ma’anShan, China. My google profile can be visited at For scientific writing, presentation, research skills and career development, please visit

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