Wired Pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘PhD journey

Just finished my first year as a PhD student at Penn State. Being a student is quite a different lifestyle than running a business. In some ways more hectic, but in many less so because I can focus mostly on my studies. So with one year down (and at least 2 to go) here are some lessons learned for anyone trying to jump back in to academia:

  • Re-train your brain. Academic literature is quite “thick.” It’s full of multi-syllabic words (I really believe that some are totally made up). Anyway, it took about 3 months to switch gears in terms of being able to quickly read and comprehend academic literature. Reading a lot before I came was key to being able to dive in once classes started and not have to reread the same sentence 3 times.
  • Understand the structure of academic papers. Learning how to quickly pull out the salient points of a research article is a very helpful skill especially when you have 100’s of pages to read each week, are writing lit reviews, or are looking for articles to support your current research projects. Abstracts, lit review sections, and discussions can be scanned first to see if the paper is relevant. If so, then go back and read the details.
  • Write it down or you’ll forget it. OK, no age jokes. But seriously, once you turn on your brain again, you’ll have a million thoughts and ideas related to your field of research. Keep a notebook or electronic file of ideas and write them down as you have them. When you’re writing papers or looking for inspiration for research topics, going back and re-reading your thoughts is not only helpful in completing assignments, but it is also a reminder of what you’re really interested in.
  • Don’t forget why you’re here. At times I feel like a moth in a light bulb factory – I’m attracted to everything. Every topic seems amazing. You can easily get distracted. Take the first year to explore different things, but towards the end of the year, start honing in on what you need to do to accomplish your end-goal (and what you’re really interested in as mentioned above).
  • Talk to everyone. As a CEO I hesitated to ask other’s advice and learn from those who had “been there, done that.” Taking the time to talk to both students and faculty is a great way to open up the possibilities for potential research and learning opportunities. You’ll never know if the person sitting next to you in class is a wiz at quantitative analysis if you don’t strike up a conversation.
  • Age can be an asset. Having years of experience in corporate America has been a great asset. If you think about school like it’s one great big client project, you’ll be more organized and less stressed.
  • Beer, summer, and friends are still hard to resist. Passing a bar on a warm sunny day with a ton of people sitting outside and drinking beer is tempting no matter what age you are.  Sometimes you just have to give in and join in.
  • There will be days you’ll wonder if you made a mistake. When you make a huge lifestyle change, some days you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and think, “What have I done?” In talking with others who’ve made lifestyle changes later in life, it’s helpful to hear that this is to be expected. Just take 2 deep breaths and let it pass (or go get a beer).
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It’s the end of the semester. I’ve got one term paper left then I’m done. As I write, edit, rewrite, reedit and rewrite again a scene from A Christmas Story keeps popping into my head.

I’m sure you remember when Ralphie was writing his essay for class? As he writes, he imagines his teacher reading the essay and being overcome with joy.  The cartoon bubble over his head shows her smiling ear to ear, holding her red marking pen and saying over and over, “Yes, yes, yes. A +, +, +, +, +, +, +, +.”

The next day Ralphie goes to class anticipating the accolades his teacher will shower upon him only to find a C+ at the top of the page.

It’s actually my nightmare. I worry that while I think I’m writing amazing prose, those in academia may not agree. Even though I have years of writing experience, writing for academia is different than writing for business. Do I have what it takes? Is my background research thorough enough? Will I get a C+?  Arggghhhh.

As someone who’s been around the block, it’s hard to be back in an environment where others are grading you. It’s humbling. And I think it’s a good thing. Ultimately it will make me a better writer and scholar.

I’m done for the semester, off to visit with friends and families, and yes, checking the online grading site likely every day. Let’s hope  I do better than Ralphie did.

Got a chuckle the other day as I got a letter from Health Services at Penn State.  It appears that all new students must provide electronic verification that you’ve had your MMR shot.  A bit challenging for me since my family Dr is not longer living, nor are my parents, so records are a bit hard to come by.

Tried to get an exemption, but didn’t get a response, so had a blood test to check for immunization.  Let’s hope the shot I got back when I was 5 is still working.

For some crazy reason I decided in my late (I’m talking late) 40’s to leave the business world and go back to school to get my PhD.  I’m very excited about re-engaging my mind, learning a ton of new stuff, and starting a new career as a scholar, but I haven’t even really started yet and it’s already getting interesting being a “non-traditional” student.

I’ve had great support from my family and friends and am very sure that I want to set out on this journey.  It does mean lots of changes and lots of new situations.  Because I want to remember all the crazy parts of this journey I plan to write about it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly (movie reference).


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