Last year, I arrived here in Canberra with a goal: to get a doctorate. It has been a dream and that day was the first step in making that dream a reality. There are some sacrifices I had to make just for this dream so I was determined to make those sacrifices worthwhile. To celebrate my 1 year as a PhD student here at ANU, here are 12 lessons I want to share with you, whether you are PhD student or contemplating to be one. They are not groundbreaking and I’m sure there is a lot of great blogs out there who share similar advice. More than a recommendation, this list is also a personal trophy for me that I can look back to whenever I need some motivation.
1. It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize. I can’t count how many times I heard this from inspirational speakers, PhD advice blogs and even some professors. Your dissertation is not the be-all and end-all of your career/studies. The most important thing is to obtain the degree as fast as you can. You can always improve your research later on because perfecting might take endless years. And scholarship doesn’t go on forever.
2. Learn as much as you can. Attend public seminars, listen to podcasts, watch educational videos instead of some YouTube pranks. These alternative avenues sometimes give you a deeper insight into your research area.
3. Be friendly with your supervisor but keep an acceptable distance. Bring him souvenirs whenever you go back from vacation but don’t add him on Facebook.
4. PhD is a solitary endeavor. Mingle with your colleagues. Or make friends outside your field for a breath of fresh air.
5. Share your progress and preliminary findings with people who are interested in your topic. This way you can also solicit advice or critiques to improve what you’re doing. On the other hand, don’t bore people with your research rants if they don’t ask for it. They have their own problems.
6. Take advantage of technology. Use apps to bookmark sites when you’re browsing the internet, use cloud storage for accessibility, or blog the progress of your research.
7. Ask questions. People in the academe usually understand and are oftentimes ready to give you answers. Being a PhD student is a good excuse to ask questions no matter how stupid they may seem. You cannot use the same excuse when you have that Dr. in your name.
8. Have a default sentence to explain what you’re doing so that you are prepared whenever people ask, “So, what is your research about.” without boring them with your hypothesis, rationale, etc. A short and concise description, more like your research question, has a higher impact than a longer explanation. Plus, it gives them room for questions, if they are really interested.
9. Have a variety of learning spaces. Most of our PhD time will be spent in the office or in the lab. Assign a day for a change of environment like the library, a cafe, or even your room. This will break the monotony of your work.
10. If possible, don’t work on weekends. Save these days for relaxation. Go shopping! Do your hobby! Travel!
11. Plan a schedule and stick to it. Create self-imposed deadlines. Have a journal to track your progress. I have planner where I write what I’ve done for the day whether it’s attending a seminar, reading a couple of articles, or even watching related documentaries.
12. Finally and most importantly, own your research. Love it, marry it, and be proud of it. This is where the importance of choosing a topic you are passionate about comes in. I realized that doing a PhD is like marrying an idea. I sleep with it, think about it when I’m taking a shower, and I pillow talk with it before I sleep. It’s a long journey so the best way is to enjoy it as much as you can.
I have 2-3 more years to complete my degree and I wish to take these lessons with me as I move forward. Do you have other lessons or tips you want to share? Write them down below so we could also learn from them. Happy weekend!