Learnings from my PhD journey
Updated: Jul 7, 2019
It was Sunday evening and I flipped through my plans and deliverable for the week, I realized the usual "follow-up with Prof" and "complete reading on..." tasks were no more on my to-do list. It should be a relief, but it was not such a relief. Little did I know that I had created a lifestyle to drive my PhD dream in the last 40 months. My PhD study is over but the experience, lessons and memories are still very fresh.
Mine was peculiar because I combined PhD study with full-time job. I honestly don't know how I pulled through with 8 publications in less than 4 years. As I reflected on how I navigated from where I used to be, I identified a few nuggets that helped me. Please come with me!
Don't loose sight of your sign-posts
My sign-posts are the driving force for a PhD. They answered the questions "Why PhD?", "What opportunities depend on the PhD?", "What is the cost of delay or drop-out?". I constantly replay the success story on my mind... seeing myself in my red-gown and sweetness of achieving my goal. These were my sign-posts, what's yours?
Take full responsibility for your study
That is what it-is. Largely, you determine the stretch of your PhD journey. This is not to say that there won't be happenings that are beyond your control (i.e data collection, ethical, health and financial challenges). Taking full responsibility means drawing actionable plans, and providing weekly updates. Most time, the feedback is unsolicited by your supervisor, but it shows that you are responsible and accountable. Taking full responsibility also means going beyond the normal call of duty, doing something extra like learning new tool, writing new article etc.
Cultivate and maintain a teachable attitude
As PhD candidate, you are allowed to present your arguments and perhaps push a new and better approach to solving known problems. However, you need to be careful not to loose your teachable attitude in the process. Be respectful, be thankful, be polite.
Manage your supervisor
It is important to show your leadership capability by knowing and managing your supervisor. A good way to achieve this is to meet with your supervisor unofficially, go for a drink, attend conference together, share personal interests (football, politics etc). Based on your learnings, you will get to know how to interact (manage) with your supervisor. When to send email, when to call, when to be silent. Its amazing how you can put your supervisor under pressure when you gain mastery of managing your supervisor.
Commit to do something daily on your study
This is like a ritual. You have to make personal commitment to do something daily ( read a journal, search a database, write a paragraph, make a phone call). If you are married, seek permission of your spouse to perform your daily ritual. This helps sustain your energy level. It does not mean that there wont be times when you really need to shut down. Shut-down is unwritten part of the deal, its sometime inevitable. However, always commit to make progress daily.
Create and sustain a support system
The journey could really be very lonely, you need a support system. Perhaps, a shoulder to cry on, a buddy to drink with, a ranting partner, or a virtual group (i.e Whatapp group). A support system I valued was my PhD WhatApp group, where we rant, share ideas and learn from other students' experience. My spouse, kids and church members were also very helpful.
I hope these nuggets will help someone become a better doctoral candidate and ease the journey to PhD.