A PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is an excellent opportunity to pursue research as a career and learn about the academic world and cutting-edge technologies. Recent Master or even Bachelor graduates are allowed to take this path. It is also a great way to connect with industry and have another path to pursue once the PhD is over. In this blog, you will find some insights into what happens during the PhD studies from someone who is wrestling to earn this title himself in the MINTS project.
Where does a PhD fit in?
The education path from primary to high school is predetermined for pretty much everyone. There is not much divergence except possibly during the high school years. But even then, courses and lectures fall more or less in a general context. During university education, however, things become interesting. There are a lot of paths you can take, even within the program you have chosen. When you receive a bachelor’s degree and move to a master’s degree, things are slightly different. Most probably, the courses become more appealing, but also, it is expected from you to be more interested and have a passion for your area/field of study. In the end, you are required to write a thesis out of the final research you carry out. This is the basis of being a researcher. However, even after graduating from a master’s program, you are just getting to know the specialization of your field. Thus, you are not truly unique, as others are also graduating from the same program. Here comes the PhD, where everything becomes individualized in the sense that the work done during your PhD will be so specific that only you and possibly a few of your colleagues/peers would have worked on it. After acquiring this title, no other PhDs will have more experience than you on the specific narrow topic since the topic/direction you took was very much tailored for you where only you held the steering wheel. In the video below, you can find a great visualization of what a PhD represents in comparison to low-level education. The expectation from you is to be unique and have state-of-the-art approaches that no one has ever carried out before.
The path to becoming a Doctor
During this period, you are not a student even if the official title you may have is a doctoral student. The starting point for you will be the topic you were already studying in your previous title or a new one you are interested in and qualified to work on. You are a researcher. The expectation from you is to learn about solutions you were not aware of. Observe, experiment, and afterward, use all of the experiences you had to come up with an approach that is not in the literature yet. Either way, you will have supervision from your professor or other senior members of your research group. By the time you hold the title in your hands, you would have collaborated with others, succeeded through trials and errors, and the things you never knew existed are the things you have now mastered. All of this will happen during the lifetime of every PhD student. However, there is also an additional real-life aspect to things, unless you can somehow turn your emotions on and off as you please.
A human PhD candidate
There is a chance that for your PhD, you will move to a new country. If so, you will feel great in the first couple of months. Everything will be new and exciting, as you will be on your PhD honeymoon. However, the PhD does not end in a couple of months. Once you get to know your project and your environment, you will start to realize what is expected from you. Nevertheless, you will never know how much time you need to complete all the assignments. When the honeymoon is over, reality might hit you. After a year or two into your doctoral program, there will be deadlines and a lot more on your plate than you thought there would be. At certain times, you might be unsure if you can handle everything and if you can continue your PhD journey. Eventually, the final year will arrive and you will start feeling like the time is running out and everything has to be finished in just a year.
While working on your PhD, you might also have personal problems, family issues, relationship complications. It is also possible that a worldwide pandemic will start along with the kick-off of your PhD. The point is, the outside world and life will continue as time waits for no one. Even when you try to focus on your research, there will always be external factors trying to mess with the schedule you planned for the week, month, or year. Sooner or later, time will fix everything. All you are left with is the experiences of how you overcome those problems.
It is not “Becoming” but “Earning” the title
Life is never simple. When you are about to start something new, you plan, do research, and try to see yourself in the future. You dream and imagine. Most likely, you believe that the things you imagine not only could be but also would be. After all, you are human. If you ask me, this is quite normal. If we did not dream, we would not have had the gigabit per second level of connection speed we have today. PhD is not only a career decision that will make your resume stronger but also is the decision that will shape your future life. It will be a phase in which you overcome difficult technical and mental obstacles you face. It will be a road to understand what academia offers and what industry does, and will prepare you for whatever you choose next.
I hope that this post has introduced those who are planning a PhD to have an overview about life during PhD studies. I would like to emphasize that the real-life is never one-dimensional and is sometimes challenging to deal with. But, if you can enjoy what you do, then the rest of the problems will be less and less significant.
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