Monday, October 26, 2015
10 things to think about if you are starting a PhD
1. I know that the constant barrage of thinkpieces about Why You Shouldn't Do a PhD is annoying, but do take some time to think about your motivation. To be honest mine was sometimes questionable; part of it was the fantasy of my own office and having "Dr." in front of my name. (And those things are both pretty awesome, yes.) Try to admit to yourself what it is you want out of this.
2. Related: be very suspicious of the notion that educational debt is "good debt." When it comes to loans, I made some terrible financial choices during my graduate studies, and some necessary compromises in the 6th year of my PhD that I will have to deal with for years to come. Budget and work so that you are not paying more tuition than you have to.
3. So: start planning now -- NOW -- for fifth- and sixth-year funding. Assuming you came in with a four year scholarship (and if you came in with no funding you should really be thinking hard about whether it's worth it), you need to be very aware of your options when that dries up. If you're in Canada, write a kick-ass SSHRC your third year, if you're eligible. If not, look to your home country, private foundations, other institutions -- really work hard to see what is available.
4. You should at least consider quitting at some point. Dark nights of the soul are common and even to be welcomed -- it means you're taking it seriously!
5. Learn to live with regrets. Choosing a PhD closes a number of doors, even as it opens others.
6. Don't let your supervisor or anyone else strongarm you into doing research on their topic. I know this is different in the sciences, but I am very grateful that I had a supervisor who let me develop a topic and an approach that was completely my own.
7. Your goal should be to stop thinking of yourself as a student. This will happen on its own, eventually (though I have a friend who said she didn't stop feeling like a student until she'd been a tenure-track professor for six years), but keep it in mind. Remember that grad school is part of your career, not preparation for it.
8. Don't stop reading and thinking outside your discipline if you don't want to. Resist the pull of hyperspecialization and keep your mind flexible.
9. Go out. Don't sit all day. Run, walk, hike, go out for beers, go to concerts, have lunch with friends. Do these as often as possible, especially when you're writing your dissertation. It will prevent you from feeling paranoid and isolated.
10. Pray without ceasing.