Applying the PhD Model Canvas

The PhD Model Canvas is designed to provide a snapshot of the PhD project. It is intended as a dashboard overview for the research in progress – a research proposal on one page.

The aim is to try to reduce overwhelm and stress experienced by many PhD students by providing a birds-eye view of their project which they can iterate as the research progresses. As such it can be used by any researcher as a tool to get an overview of their research project and keep track of their objectives. I will write subsequent posts about additional tools that can be used to manage research goals at a more granular level. 

As an example of how to apply the Model Canvas I filled out a Canvas for my current book project. This will be my fourth book publication within four years and the Canvas has helped me clarify my goals and objectives with this new forthcoming publication. 

In this case it is an edited volume of essays which I was invited to co-edit with two Norwegian professors following a conference at the University of Bergen in October 2018. It stemmed from my first peer-reviewed publication in 2009 in the journal Viking and Medieval Scandinavia on the medieval cult of St Sunniva in Western Norway.

Sunniva is the patron saint of Western Norway and of the city of Bergen and 2020 marks the 850th anniversary of when her relics were brought to the city from Norway’s holy island of Selja on the beautiful West coast of Norway. So I am one of three editors with twelve contributors to the volume which will be published by a Norwegian academic press in both Norwegian and English in Summer 2020. It is not a conference proceedings volume as each contributor was approached specifically to write chapters for the volume. In this case I am both a contributor and an editor for the book project. 

1. I start at the bottom of the Canvas where I envision what success looks like for me with this project. I clearly define the goal in as much detail as I can. In this case it is:  “Publishing an accessible but scholarly edited collection for September 2020. Celebrating the book launch in Bergen as part of the cultural heritage events for the 850th anniversary. Selling 1,500 copies total.” 

2. I then turn to the right side of the Canvas. This project clearly fits in with my existing Knowledge, expertise and interests in the field. 

3. In State of the Art I have a clear sense of how this project fits in with the existing research and how it will build on it. I list the main publications.

4. The Research Questions are the principal questions that I am addressing in my own chapter contribution and which will guide my research. These are questions that I did not address in my previous publication on this subject, but now have an opportunity to do so. 

5. The Channels in this case is a bi-lingual book that will be launched as part of the 850th anniversary celebrations in Bergen in September 2020 where it will be part of the cultural heritage events organized in the city. 

6. I then turn to the left side of the Canvas. My Key Partners are clearly my two co-editors in Bergen who I am in regular contact with via email, and the contributors. The academic publisher is also a partner and the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland who was one of the figures behind initiating this project.

7. The Audience is slightly tricky in this case. It is a scholarly work but it is intended to be accessible to a general readership as it is a commemorative volume so it is targeted at a wider audience. This was clear from the outset of the project and this was important in how we communicated to the contributors as it will dictate the tone of the volume. 

8. My Key Activities are mainly twofold – editing the contributions, proofreading the chapters in English, liaising with my co-editors, and research and writing my own chapter. 

9. Key Metrics for me is an 8,000 word chapter with a daily target of 500 words per day. At the editing and proofreading stage I might dedicate 2 hours a day [time metric] to these tasks. 

10. The central contribution to knowledge. Why does this matter? My thesis in my chapter is that an English Cistercian abbot may have written the earliest Norwegian hagiography and may have been the author of the Sunniva legend and the Olav Passio. This has new implications for our understanding of the development of Latin literary culture in Norway during the twelfth century and the earliest phase of Norwegian historiography.   

11. The Twitter Thesis is what you tell someone who asks you about your current project. It’s a short and snappy sentence on the research. In this case: “An edited volume exploring the development of the cult of St Sunniva, pilgrimage, and the city of Bergen from 1170 to 2020.” 

12. Cost Structure in this case it’s my time and I calculate that it’s about 6 months of work on an off on this project. The costs of publication are covered by other stakeholders. 

13. Revenue Stream. This is obviously a legacy project from my point of view as the publisher in this case will take all proceeds from the sale of the work. This is not ideal and is the first time I have committed to a book project without negotiating royalties, but the project is from my perspective still worth doing nonetheless. I am invested in the project for its own sake.

14. Finally, at the very bottom of the Canvas, what are my next steps with this project? In my case it’s 

1. Incorporating revisions from the external reader’s report on my chapter and feedback from my co- editors. Taking their feedback on board.  

2. Proofreading the final chapters once we receive them. 

3. Writing my section of the Introduction before submitting final MS to publisher.

Can you use the Model Canvas in a similar way as a dashboard for your own research project? Is this helpful?  

You can download the completed example of my Canvas here:

And a blank one here: