So this approach has definitely been a great experience for me. How can it work for you?
Less talking, more doing
There’s already good information available on how to write blogs, start open-source projects, and write Ph.D.’s and most of the other items on the list. Where there isn’t much information is how to combine them: how to write an open-source project framed as a Ph.D. thesis. This article will offer concrete guidance. But before we begin, it’s worth clearing up some misconceptions about what doing a Ph.D. actually entails.
First, the good news: Ph.D.’s don’t really have any exams or courses, at least in the undergraduate sense. A Ph.D. is more like one big piece of coursework. And if you have a Masters degree or even just a solid Bachelors degree, you can probably enrol straight in.
The bad news: No exams and no courses means very little structure. If you have difficulty motivating yourself or working without supervision, a Ph.D. may not be right for you. But bare in mind, motivation and independence are also strong prerequisites for a successful open-source project, blog or book, so you’ll need to commit to this same skillset to accomplish pretty much any of the items on the laundry list.
Once you’re committed, a daunting question is: Where to start? It helps to understand your goal. The goal of any Ph.D. is to produce a thesis that, among other things, makes some “novel contribution to knowledge” and “demonstrates mastery of research.” Both of these are rather abstract phrases. You may be thinking, what does an open-source project in the form of a Ph.D. thesis actually look like?
Objective: Your thesis must have an objective. That may sound obvious, but it can be surprisingly hard after years of research to succinctly define what your objective was. Doing so is critical. It presents a far more compelling thesis if your objective is clearly defined at the start and, more importantly, regularly reinforced throughout.
You need to ensure your thesis weaves a coherent narrative. Its introduction should state its objective, and its conclusion should conclude that objective. Your objective should be reflected in the title of your thesis. It should be referred to frequently throughout its pages as justification as to why you are researching each section. Each section should end by stating what the next section will accomplish. Each section should begin by summarizing what has been accomplished so far. Do everything you can to prevent the reader from becoming lost.
At the end of your Ph.D., your thesis must be examined. Examining a thesis is a brutal job. Your examiner is being asked to judge a piece of work written by somebody (i.e. you!) who has spent far more time studying a particular area than they have. They are unlikely to view your work favorably if they cannot understand it. And it helps enormously toward their understanding if your thesis is clear and consistent in its purpose.
Once you have clearly defined your objective, the next step is to orient it within the wider context of your chosen field. This is accomplished through a literature review.
Literature Review: An important goal of a Ph.D. is to make some “novel contribution to knowledge.” This implies an understanding of what the current knowledge is. Your thesis must spend considerable time reviewing the existing literature. It must research existing strengths and weaknesses, and identify shortcomings in the current body of work. It must define the “gap in knowledge” that it intends to fill.