Wired Pursuits

Put a fork in me, I’m done!

Posted on: May 28, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 2.16.08 PMI started this blog about 3 1/2 years ago when I decided to change paths and go off in pursuit of a Ph.D. On May 5th I graduated and have the diploma to prove it. For anyone thinking about going back to school as a more “seasoned” student here’s my top 10 list for perspective Ph.D.’s:

10.  Leverage your topic in everything you do. Figure out how to start writing about your research area in your classes even if you don’t have data. I was amazed at how much I was able to reuse from the lit reviews, theory exploration, and proposals that were created as part of my coursework.

9.   Remind yourself that you are here to learn. Just because you have 20+ years of industry experience, that doesn’t really matter. Put that in your back pocket for now. Scholarship is a different ball game, so be open to what you don’t know, admit that you don’t know it, and actively seek out advice from those who are doing it.

8.  You can’t read everything. At some point you just have to stop or you’ll never finish. (TIP: One thing to never stop reading is Ph.D. comics. This guy is right on and will put a smile on your face.)

7.  Talk about your ideas no matter how half-baked. In fact, the most important time to talk about them is when they are just forming. Find a buddy who is working on a similar topic then meet weekly to discuss your work. Just talking about what you’re doing is eye-opening in terms of how difficult it can be to clearly articulate your research. (CAUTION: Alcohol should not be involved, it only makes half-baked ideas sound way better than they really are.)

6.  Plan your work and work your plan. Here’s where being more “seasoned” is a benefit. Create a 4 year plan that outlines semester by semester the classes you want to take, the conferences you want to submit papers to, the key milestones of your program, and the courses you want to teach. Then regularly evaluate how you’re doing against your plan. It will likely change, but it will help you from waking up 4 years later and still not being at the finish line.

5.  Dissertations are like large software projects, they often fail because people keep adding new features. Avoid the moth in a light-bulb factory effect of adding in new stuff just because you’ve become enamored with it. Focus. Focus. Focus. Here’s where your advisor will be key.

4.  Speaking of advisors, s/he will make you or break you. So be sure you have a collaborative relationship, that she knows your area of study, that she has the time to devote to you (meeting every other week potentially), and that she’s not slated for a sabbatical right as you’re reaching the end. She will also be instrumental in finding you a job, so pick someone that has and extensive network and is well respected in the field you want to enter.

3.  Expect to be anxious. This process was a crazy up and down experience. It was the first time in a long time that I couldn’t apply my past business experiences directly to the task at hand (or just wing it based on past knowledges). So expect to wake up in the night with regular “Oh Shit!” moments. They will pass (and come back again), so just know it’s part of the process. (TIP: Yoga breathing helps as does alcohol but both are only temporary.)

2.  Write down what motivated you to do this in the first place and what your end goal is. Then, revisit it often. Academia presents many different opportunities and your advisor and the culture of the institution you are studying at may value different things than you do. You can easily get caught up in what others’ think is important and end up spending time that ultimately doesn’t advance your personal goals.

1.  Get your Ph.D. for you and be “all in.” You have to remain motivated. You have to do all the work yourself. It’s a very lonely process at times, so you have to be your own best advocate and cheerleader. (TIP: Having a spouse who’s willing to take up the slack and deal with late nights and braindeadness is essential.)

In the end, it’s an amazing journey and I’m glad that I’m on the other end of that train.

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