About James Hayton, PhD

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Formerly a physicist, I used to work in nanoscience but moved on to bigger things…

Since 2010 I’ve been working with PhD students to try to figure out ways to get through the research and writing process. In 2015 I published “PhD”, a guide to the basic principles I believe every PhD student needs to know

I’m not a motivational speaker, productivity guru or time-management expert. My aim is neither to motivate nor inspire, but hopefully to provide some useful insight that can make life a little easier en route to your PhD.

I focus on the development of skills above all else.



Lecturing at the University of Edinburgh, February 2013


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Scanning Near Field Optical Microscope: The cause of many a late night in the lab
Self-assembled gold nanorods: this (accidental) result got me my first paper!


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  • Born 1980 in Liverpool, England, but grew up in Bolton
  • Studied Physics at the University of Sheffield (1999-2002) then took a sales job in an insurance company after graduation. Quit after 2 weeks and went back to do a master’s degree in Nanoscale Science and Technology (graduated 2003)
  • Moved to Nottingham for a PhD in Physics within the nanoscience research group with the brilliant Professor Moriarty
  • Quickly realised that getting onto a PhD program is easier than completing one. Panic.
  • Spend the next couple of years fearing that someone will eventually realise I’m not good enough to be there. I procrastinate terribly
  • 2006: hit rock bottom and almost quit
  • Recover, find ways to deal with the stress, beat procrastination and get the results I needed in the few months remaining
  • 2007: wrote thesis in 3 months, and passed viva with zero corrections. The examiner said it was one of the best theses he had ever read.
  • 2008: started postdoc position at CEA Grenoble, produced data for 3 publications in just 12 months
  • 2010: 6 month postdoc at UAB Barcelona

During my last postdoc position, I realised that there were so many incredibly intelligent students who were terrified of the writing process. Since I wrote my thesis fast, enjoyed the process and produced quality work, I figured that maybe there was something I could do to help.

I started this site in 2010, initially focused on the writing process, but broadened to include the entire PhD. I have since worked with well over 100 students on a one to one basis, and spoken to thousands through live events.

I have worked with students from a huge range of fields, and every single one has helped me refine and improve my approach and made me better able to help others.


Where I have spoken

I have spoken at many institutions throughout the UK, including;

  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Sheffield
  • The Institute of Physics
  • University of Oxford
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • University of Sussex
  • University of Bath
  • Kings College London
  • The Open University
  • University College London

To book me to speak at your institution or event, use the contact form here


You may need to pay to access these if your university doesn’t have a subscription…

I also wrote this piece for The Guardian in 2010

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Other Achievements

  • I hold a rank of 3rd dan in aikido, and have competed internationally, captaining the UK team in 2009 and 2011
  • In 2005 I cycled over 500 miles from Edinburgh to Brighton in 8 days
  • In 2010 I cycled over 130 miles coast to coast in England in a single day (though I was forced to stop about 10 miles from the end, I still count this as an achievement!)
  • I once climbed a mountain with a broken ankle


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Coast to coast in a single day, 2010
Coast to coast in a single day, 2010