July 17, 2012

Re: Surviving a PhD – by Tomi

I don't know if you've come across this piece on Thesis Whisperer, Surviving a PhD - 10 Top Tips. I totally recommend you hit that link...it's a good read. I on the other hand will recount the tips here with a one-line summary, followed by my reflection on them.

1. Academics need you

Summary: Most academics are keen to speak to any potential student who has a good research idea, as a good record of successful PhD supervisions is essential to build a successful academic career.

Reflection: I believe this is comforting news for an aspiring PhD student. All you need do is draw that innovative proposal and tighten it up. I don't know if academics are KEEN though. I know they'll be happy to talk with you about your ideas (especially good-lookingones), but keen... . Perhaps I'll find out when I become a supervisor myself one day (for the record I am learning from the best).

2. It's your PhD - take ownership

Summary: Although your supervisor will have opinions or perhaps an agenda which will shape the direction of your research, it is YOU alone who will have to defend it in the viva

Reflection: I see the point the author is making here, but i'll admit the need to exercise a bit of caution in just taking overall ownership. Let me explain - the first point says the academic wants to look good right? Therefore, you supervisor will definitely not try to sabotage your research. I feel it is worth it to create an ambience where opinions and feedback are freely given and received, and a sense of "keep off, this is my work" is not created. After all, when push comes to shove, we are after the same outcome - passing the viva and bagging the PhD, right?

3. Write up as you are going

Summary: Same as title - write up as you go along

Reflection: From Day One my supervisor gave me this golden nugget - just write and don't wait to the last minute. Most of the writing I do now is in form of note-taking from readings, but I can see them converting to chapter-content in the near future.

4. Love to hate your thesis

Summary: You will hate your thesis at some point...it's normal. Take a break and return to it.

Reflection: It's still early days for me... i'm still on honeymoon (i think). I am really not looking forward to this Valley of Shit.

5. Finished is better than perfect

Summary: Finishing your PhD is better than trying to have a perfect thesis, examiners are paid to find faults.

Reflection: I think that advice would apply to almost every walk of life; while I try to get a task done as perfectly as possible, I try not to make the mistake of getting strung up on it. One won't move on if that was the case.

6. The written thesis is just part of the phd

Summary: An extension of the tip above - finishing is better than perfect.

7. Enjoy the viva

Summary: This is the chance to communicate your research and your passion, enjoy it

Reflection: I'll be keeping this in mind when I get to that point. The aura of dread and fear that surrounds the viva in academia is so thick I can almost slice through - okay maybe I am exaggerating a little, but still... is it really that bad?

8. Have a plan for life post phd

Summary: Getting a job is not the tip here - have a transition plan for your return to the real-world

Reflection: After spending 3/4 years researching just one topic, petting it, stalking it and dreaming of it sometimes, I suppose a move-on-plan is in order

9. It is worth it

Summary: It is worth it!

Reflection: Are you for real? (wide-eyed). Kidding, of course it would be!

10. Tip 10: Ignore tips 1-9 - The only way to find out how to do a phd is to do one. Therefore all advice is useless

Summary:Experience is the best teacher.

Reflection: I totally agree with this final tip - to find how to do a PhD, you have to do one.

I am of the opinion that no one-size-shoe-fits-all advice on going through the process can teach one everything one needs to know about the PhD. Experiences are almost as unique as DNAs. There will definitely be a few that cut across board - but when the chips are down, this is YOUR phd, and YOU figure it out as you go along.

I am eagerly looking forward to the next academic year and the arrival of new PhD students - I'm hoping they'll find the Research Exchange as quickly as I did upon arrival and have a swell time navigating and surviving a PhD.

What's your take on these tips?


- 4 comments by 3 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. They are great tips.Thank you for that and the actual source…

    17 Jul 2012, 10:25

  2. Tip 9 and Tip 10 suits me.Every PhD is unique in my opinion…

    17 Jul 2012, 10:27

  3. Anna Sloan

    I feel like every one of these tips is both true and not true. I think you really just have to negotiate as you go along.

    19 Jul 2012, 10:29

  4. Salma Patel

    Thanks for these. An academic once told me:

    The PhD process is a 3 year training session on how to become a researcher. Go easy and yourself and don’t expect your research to be ground breaking.

    03 Aug 2012, 12:41


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