I've been looking for a PhD for a while in between research jobs, but I've actually had pitiful opportunities to actually talk to existing or recently graduated PhD students about how they coped/ worked in their 3 year course.
For those of you currently on or have just finished, please could you share your experiences of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd year etc, tutor support or problems, confidences, jobs etc, just an idea of what the process actually feels like. Alternatively, if you know of a decent blog or article on the subject, please post that too.
I am an advanced Phd student (post-viva) and got Revision and Resubmission outcome ( already half way through with my corrections, submitting early next year). But, it was for a good cause. I definitely did not get adequate support from my supervisors who said they could not supervise me anymore and I had no option but to submit the thesis when it clearly was not ready. It was my examiners who have been very generous and personally interested in my research. My experience says that first of all choose supervisors that you get along well with and can be there for you in all kinds of academic and non-academic crisis as you will be spending so much time with them. You should have excellent communication skills and you have to be professional in your approach. I have seen students who treat PhDs like a job often perform better and feel better than people like me who love to do Phd for doing only research and hang around in libraries. Don't chase big names unless you know your personal life is already in good shape, which is rare for most students as it means relocating in a different city and mostly sacrificing most of your likings in the pursuit of a Phd. Secondly, choose a University which is known for research more than teaching. In the later case, the faculty life will be awful which means the supervision too will be pathetic. In a research dominated university, students get a lot of input and fair assistance from every corner of the university. Thirdly, Just like any profession, be prepared to accept politics and power games. Don't loose heart when you will be faced with contradictions and hypocrisy. Yes, a lot of academic life involves non-academic aspects. You might be confused why you are not making progress in Phd despite doing all the readings and submissions of drafts. The academic profession is undergoing massive change, research standards are only getting tougher which only means more politics and more power games. On my academic journey, I have seen less academic activity and more public relations skills and strategies people use to stick around and carry on. Unless you already have a book or a peer-reviewed article somewhere, the day-to-day life as a Phd student is hard. You might be lucky if you don't have to be on campus and just come for supervision or workshop which will happen throughout the year.
I got asked the questions you have by a number of interested people one I finished. My experiences resulted in this blog. Take a read (first link) as it tries to answer the most frequent questions I was asked.
If you want a smile, you might want to click on the link for the "PhD Game" (second link). :-)
Ganesha, thankyou very much: find a decent supervisor [good relationship and good support], treat it like a job [9-5 etc, I can do that]. Very much appreciated.
Ian, I've seen that game before, my GF sent it too me some time ago. Made me facedesk then, makes me facedesk now. But thanks, good for a laugh.
And thanks for the blog, it was extremely informative.
I guess my issue is not knowing right now whether its the right thing for me. I enjoy scientific research in my field, but a 3 year commitment is alot to ask. I think I could handle it, but right now I'm still not sure what is actually involved, even with your blog. I can handle just doing research, writing and planning it all for a few years, but it seems like a huge obstacle without clear structure.
How did you know it was the right thing to do?
I think the structure in Phd is that there is no structure. It's amazing how much uncertainty is there. I know exactly what you feel.....you just want to know if your three years would be spent well and if there are roadblocks, where to turn to. You want to feel safe and secured. That is why choose a supervisor that you can talk to very honestly about your fears and insecurities. In my case,
one of my supervisor has left the university and the other one behaves like an advanced graduate student. I have never felt confident about anything that he says after meetings. Instead, I have found another professor with whom I can open up my deepest fears and sometimes even personal issues which my current supervisor is just not interested in knowing. Be prepared to be judged on a day to day basis. Although there is no one gossiping and open blasphemisation, people are constantly sizing you up. One day you will feel above the rest and the next day you crash like glass roof. Sometimes, it's best just to avoid socialization. That said,you might want to cling to someone just to know want is happening but there are insane amount of list-serves that will keep you updated and several workshops that will tell you a lot about Phd experience.
CONTINUING MY MESSGE IN A NEW POST
You are always expected to speak in a certain way -scholarly way. And even though you know you are more intellectual than others, just have to except sometime bullshit from people inferior to you. As I said a lot of academia is not intellectual! My problem has been this- I am bipolar so I run out patience quickly and need answer urgently than others. Unfortunately, the system does not really care for people with such personality disorders although there are some in my school with OCS. however, I got diagnosed very late. I found thePhd experience extremely draining. The pace didn't suit me. I was going at 60 miles an hour but the structure is not even half my speed! The system does not like intelligent and super speed students. I felt the uni as a kind do asylum. Many people even after getting a job there feel vulnerable. But if you get published before of during the Phd , then, you will feel very morally secured and superior and that feeling is definitely positive. There is one faculty our department recently hired as a professor and he is only 35! You can imagine his ego. Although, he is extremely overweight-so obviously something had to be sacrificed. There is no doubt you are extremely capable and scientific in your approach and diligent. Unfortunately, that is not enough. All in all, Phd is an unpredictable journey. Even if you have trustworthy supervisors, sometimes they might still fail your expectations. From my experience, people who keep on moving in their lives like get married and have kids are the only ones who seem to enjoy the experience the most and somehow the system is more fairer to them. Doing Phd is considered an elite pursuit, so if you can compensate that prejudice against academicians by showing your family or marital side, the experience is much more secured and safe.
I am 6 months into my PhD but it is a continuation of my master's so I've been with the same supervisor and project for about 18months. Overall I have to say I really enjoy it, having a good supervisor really helps but I love research and in doing that I am happy. It can be stressful at times but I am reasonably strict about the work life balance so I don't do much if any research on weekends which helps a lot. You do have to be passionate and self motivated and if you are unsure if it is for you then consider careers outside academia or possibly do a year's research master's. But for me it's the best thing I have ever done and I don't regret it in the slightest. My whole department is really great and if my supervisor isn't around there are other academics or postgrads I can talk to so there is a really good support network and a nice sociable atmosphere making me feel really comfortable working there. Good luck with your decision and I hope what I said helps.
I'm currently under examination, so awaiting the outcome of my PhD.
I found the process isolating. While I had excellent support regarding my supervisors, it was a lonely experience, difficult to meet people (sociology) and had to put myself out there to obtain teaching experience, since jobs were not advertised but rather, offered via word of mouth.The 9-5pm doesn't work for everyone depending on their study and discipline, but seems to be advice given out most often. If a 9-5 doesn't work for you, don't try and force it, especially when writing. I found my best times to write are early morning, about 2-3 hours. After that, no good until the evening. But that's what worked for me, and I got my PhD done in time with my funding. Structure does not work for all PhDs, and structure will fluctuate as you move through. There will be months where you don't do much work, to months where all you do is work.
I had a partner, and made few but good friends, got married, bought a house. I didn't put my life on hold to do the PhD. I took vacations and travelled, I taught (TAing and Lecturing/Unit Coordination) and did volunteer work.
In terms of career prospects, I've chosen not to stay in Academia. The amount of pressure and stress, plus the expectation of high geographic mobility doesn't work for me, I have no interested in pursuing Post-Docs that might mean moving to another part of the world. So, in my final year of my PhD, I began to research other options career wise, and am currently working towards a career in applied social research. It's a long journey, requires a lot of effort on my part in taking on pro-bono research projects and networking, but I'm doing it.
I guess I should have mentioned this before, but I've already done a research masters. Loved the project, but my supervisor was pretty poor. Of the 7 months to do a project, I spent 3 months doing something completely unrelated, 3 months fighting with the dataset I was given in order to analyse it properly, and 3 weeks to get all the labwork done.
As for isolation, self motivation etc, I can do all that, its not a problem. I'm still not sure whether its the right thing to do, but I guess sometimes there's nothing ventured. If its just 3 years of the same stuff with my masters, if I have a decent supervisor this time then I'll love it.
As regards structure, it's what you make it under the guidance of your supervisors. Yes, structure will be a little vague at times as we are talking academia, but the PhD will in the end be what you make of it.
I think almost every PhD student feels the sense of a lack of direction at times or the goal posts being changed because a supervisor (or sponsor) has a bright idea (though generally he was a good supervisor). What I recommend is something similar to my approach. I knew what kind of basic data my supervisors were after, so I designed my own experimental programme to obtain that data. The structure proved quite successful and I was able later to concentrate further test runs on 'boundary conditions' between different data sets.
When my primary supervisor came in with the inevitable bright idea, I was able to roughly accommodate that into the structure and this gave me extra quality data I included in my thesis. One or two of his less feasible ideas I managed to leave out on the basis I was aiming to submit the thesis by a given date, though his reasoning for trying some of these extra experiments was based on an excellent understand of his subject area.
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