The PhD Experience: Sure?


Good Morning!

Today (25 May) I’m in a good mood for writing and studying. You know why? Because a few days ago, I received my order: a Phd Book Set from iThinkwell. A set of book containing (what i think are) important things you should know before even thinking of getting a PhD. Well, it’s a little late for me to read it know, but hey, there’s never too late to do something good. Right?

There are five books in the set: Turbocharge Your Writing, The Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students, The PhD Experience, Time for Research and Defeating Self-Sabotage. They’re not thick, each only has a few pages, so you can really read it in your spare time. But I didn’t. I want to take my time in reading, because they’re exactly what I need at the moment. A special mood booster, tailored to the needs of PhD students. I decided that first book I’d read is: “the PhD Experience, what they didn’t tell you at induction“. So last night before sleeping, I took the book to bed, along with a pencil and sticky notes to write what I would learn.

The book includes case summaries of 10 students in dealing with their PhD experience. Each summary starts with a graph, that shows how the students rate their feelings toward their PhD from time to time. Then the story moves on to describe that feelings, judgment, problems, and so on that the students encounter during their studies. While reading, I jotted down a few things that I can relate with, as I also experience them. Here’s what I came up with…

The main lesson for me is that PhD involves an emotional rollercoaster. During the PhD, I can feel that I’m constantly stressed out, changing mood, having mixed feelings and thoughts, but I don’t know why, how, or when. So when I saw the graph for the first time, I thought that’s a good idea. Maybe by looking at that graph, I could identify the reason, at least the pattern, of my own feelings. This morning, I came up with one. This is how it looks:


How to Read: The blue line is what I feel from the time I start the course in April 2009 up until now, May 2011. The red line is what I expect to feel in the future until my PhD finish in April 2012. The numbers on the left side is how I rate my feelings toward my PhD experience, with 0 being neutral, > 0 being positive and 10 is the highest rate, and < 0 being negative with -10 is the lowest rate.

Now, as you can see, I tend to have negative feelings towards my PhD experience. Well, only one explanation for that: I wasn’t really that excited to have a PhD degree. I have my own reason why I started it in the first place even though I didn’t want to. But well, I’m in it, I can’t get out of it, so I have to find out ways to cope with it. I was quite surprised that others also feel what I’ve been feeling all along:

  • Isolation: No one to discuss your work with, because it seems that you’re the ONLY one who works on that subject in your lab/dept/faculty/even university. No one to share your burden with, because you’re too ashamed to tell people that you’re feeling like a (constant) failure. No one to discuss your life with, because let’s face it, you DON’T have a life.
  • Uncertainty: you can’t see the END of your own work, you don’t know what to do next, you don’t trust your own judgement, originality, ability to write, summarize, even think, and you don’t have someone to bounce off your ideas.
  • Overwhelmed: small tasks, big tasks, medium tasks, you don’t even know if it’s relevant or not.
  • Lacking crucial first step: don’t know how to specify topics, self-doubt and lack of confidence to proceed, and suddenly, the time is running out.
  • Difficulties working with supervisors: they’re too busy, afraid you’ll dissapoint them because you couldn’t finish the given task by the deadline you promised to them, afraid they’ll laugh at your writings/logic.
  • Mixed emotions: mainly relates to confidence, motivation, and pressure. Also feeling ‘lost’, discouraged, frustrated.
  • Time constraints: time is always, I repeat.. always, a problem. Damn publication. Other constraints also exist, such as financial (where will you get the funding for your fieldwork?), or administration stuffs (small annoying things you have to do).

Of course there are happy times. Like when you get praised for your work, OK’d by your supervisors to proceed, or contacted by some unknown person interested in your works. But it doesn’t happen that often. And it’s like lifting your mood by 10% to be crushed down again by 90%.

There are also other things if you’re unlucky, such as getting along with other students (imagine if they’re so annoying in whatever ways you can think of), no work space at school, family problems, etc. I wouldn’t write that because thankfully, I don’t have such problems. Although I do admit that in my first and second year, I let my life got in the way of my Phd. Now it seems the other way around, I can’t stop having my PhD gets into my life.

Anyway, two things I recognize after reading the book:

(1) The need for support: academic, emotional and financial. You should really have these three things in place or sorted out BEFORE even thinking of starting a PhD.

  1. Make sure you will have all the academic support from your supervisor, post-grad peers, university.
  2. Make sure you will have at least one ‘solid rock’ in your life, whom you can turn to anytime you need it. I mean a person. Not a hobby. And he/she should be one who loves you sooo much that they’d be willing to hear all your complaints, which I assure you, will be A LOT. It can be your parents, partners, bestfriends, even your supervisors. Mine, is my loving G. I can’t thank God enough that I have someone as solid as him by my side.
  3. Make sure you have prepare your financial state for the rainy days. We can never be sure about funding from university.

(2) PhD vs Life. Phd needs full concentration. So I should really start facing the reality: PhD comes with isolation and NO social life.

Now, as some students in the book said, I just want to ‘get it over and done with’.

PS: I can’t wait to read the next book on my list: Time for Research, Time Management for PhD Students

13 responses »

  1. I was in the same situation, mb qnoi…I had thoose feeling for sure…hehehe…but, belueve that someday everything that start always have an end…

  2. Totally agree with your last paragraph.

    The day I graduated from ITB, one of my lecture offered me to take master on there and promised me to find a scholarship. But I rejected and said “I won’t get any master before I get married.”

    And here I am now, a new master student (and yes, I have someone that I can lean on every second already, hehehe).

    Anyway, I love all your post about PhD things. Its burned! 😀

  3. Pressure na level tinggi ya mbak di Phd,hm…dinikmatin aja mbak, tiap gigitannya,(biskuit kali)…the good thing of achievment is when we are running after for it,run after it with all our might…ganbatte kudasai!!^^

    *mbak iam still waiting proposal sample for scholarship from you…yoroshiku onegaishimase^^domo.

    • Iya, tinggi! jangan masuk kalo gak siap.. hehehe..

      Oh iya? prasaan udah gw kirim deh. Nanti deh dikirimin lagi.. sori yaa..

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