This case provides an overview of some of the less discussed aspects of doing a PhD, from the challenges and opportunities of working with different institutions and across languages and cultures to accommodating the agendas of multiple funders. The case also focuses on ethics in action – the discontinuity between ethics that is intended and the ethics that actually occurs on the ground. The case is illustrated throughout with the author's own PhD, which examines the impact of anthropogenic climate change on migration. Empirical data for the project are drawn from primary fieldwork in rural and urban China. Throughout, practical suggestions are given as to how the author addresses the main issues discussed. The case study concludes that the more practical elements of a research project often remain hidden, and that making them more visible is likely to result in more robust research outputs and a more positive research experience.