Q: I am about to start my PhD. What's likely to be the main difficulty ahead?
Time is in fact the only true difficulty. Anything else (resource availability, supervision issues, life matters, inspiration block) can only result in a time penalty.
Q. I am an international student and am aware that my English language level could always improve. Is this going to be a hindrance?
A. Mostly, yes. Even if you are able to, say, conduct your research using materials in English, you will still need to write your thesis. For that, your academic written English must be very good.
Q. My academic writing ability may not be the greatest, but my research is very strong. Is this not sufficient compensation as far as my thesis is concerned?
A. No, it is not. In fact, it's a false premise altogether. Your research is of any value (at all) if, and only if, it reaches the reader (i.e. your examiners, in the first instance). The only vehicle that makes that possible is your written thesis. If your writing, therefore, is unable to illustrate the complex nature of your research, then your research will not receive appreciation or recognition; on the contrary...
Q. My writing comes under criticism, but a lot of the published research materials in my field are written like that. Why should I worry?
A. A published text is only a representation of itself, nothing more. Regrettably, some of it is very poor writing. Examples, in truth, abound. Do not take any published text to be an example of good writing simply because it is "published".
Consider this text:
Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality, viz., of the dark/of the self, the identity of which is not outside the absolute identity of the outside, which is to say that the equivocal predication of identity is possible of the self-identity which is not identity, while identity is univocally predicated of the limit to the darkness, of the limit of the reality of the self). This is the real exteriority of the absolute outside: the reality of the absolutely unconditioned absolute outside univocally predicated of the dark: the light univocally predicated of the darkness: the shining of the light univocally predicated of the limit of the darkness: actuality univocally predicated of the other of self-identity: existence univocally predicated of the absolutely unconditioned other of the self.
It is from a book published in 1996 by State University of New York Press.
Some might say it is also a crime!
Q. What is the rule regarding the use of I in academic writing?
There is no agreed convention about the use of 1st person pronouns, although the prevalent idea is to avoid it. Perhaps the question is: do you need to use "I"?
On the other hand, there is no rule (grammatical or other) against using such pronouns; therefore, it is not a punishable mistake.
Ultimately, the debate should be conducted critically on a case-by-case basis.
Whichever perspective on the subject, using I does carry the danger of subjectivity in a context specifically meant to be objective (i.e research carried out on the basis of critical analysis).
If you believe that it is impossible to avoid using I in a certain paragraph (for whatever reason), then perhaps answering the following test-questions will help:
Is your text any better because of the 1st person pronoun?
Is the argument any better / stronger?
Is the paragraph clearer in any way?
If the answer to any of these is "well, no, not really..." or "I'm not sure...", then there is no reason to use I.
Further more, read your text leaving the 1st person pronoun out (instances such as: I believe, my opinion is, my research shows, I feel that): does the result change or alter the meaning of your passage at all? If it does not, then there is no reason to use I.
The presence of I may also denote self-importance and appear aggressive, even discourteous, to your reader. Unlike Wilbur, the character above, you do not need to advertise and pose your persona, but rather allow your research to do so.
The only notable exception here is writing within certain humanistic disciplines that require a very strong element of person-centrism, such as psychotherapy, counselling, other psychological disciplines, based on extensive emotive content. Here, the use of I is a necessity.
Q. I have a certain difficulty, but am not confident enough (I'm terrified!) to discuss it with my supervisor. What shall I do?
A. Discuss it with your supervisor. There is no other solution. If your PhD has encountered a problem, your School expects you to inform your supervision first.
Q. My supervisor asks me to do/write a variety of things that take a lot of time and seem to be of little use, overall. What shall I do in this situation?
A. Your supervisor's role is that of guidance, not teacher. He/she can suggest things, but ultimately you need to agree or disagree with such requests. More importantly, your supervisor does not have a true representation of your PhD time; you do! You should always raise such concerns, argue your position and also ask for clarification and/or argumentation in return. It is your right!
Q. My research topic is X. Must I write a literature review?
A. Not necessarily. In fact, only write one if it is requested by your School (and argued as such through your supervision), or if it is going to be a chapter in your thesis. Otherwise, it will take a lot of time to write. That does not mean you shouldn't carry out literature searches. Writing a lit review (a specialised piece of academic writing) and conducting research for one are two different things.
Q. My supervisor comments that I should be more "critical". What does that mean, exactly?
A. It means a great number of things, none of which would be of any use, here, without its originating circumstance/-s. If you do not understand any aspect of your supervisor's feedback, then ask for clarification. Always!
Q. Is it true that my School should offer a mock Viva?
A. No, not generally. Some do, but it's certainly not the norm.
Q. I find PhD life challenging and am a little disappointed that my university doesn't show particular interest in my situation. What can I do?
A. As a PhD student, You are responsible for your own welfare, not the university. Hopefully, the university is willing to assist, but you need to signal your difficulties first by discussing them with your supervisor.
Q. Can Sophia Libris help with all these matters?