Friend of the blog Travis has done regular thesis updates, and I think that updates from those in their PhD can be helpful for those considering or starting out with their graduate education. It gives you a a bit of a roadmap of what to expect, and potential pitfalls you might encounter. Some of you will be half way through a Masters/PhD right now, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments – anything you wish you knew before, or even things that went well that you would recommend others do as well.
And, to inject a little class into the proceedings, I’m going to highlight these points with famous quotes from books. I’m sure my English major readers will have a field day with this.
1. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley, – Of Mice And Men, Steinbeck
I wanted to start with this because it’s the most obvious. I broke my arm. For those of you who haven’t broken your arm, I don’t recommend it. It’s really not a fun experience. As a result, I spent the better part of August sitting around being unable to do much except watch the Olympics. So I know everything about every Olympic sport now.
However, this time was really useful. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and being forced to step back and evaluate your project can give you clarity you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get. This doesn’t even have to be something extravagant like going on an Alaskan cruise or Eating, Praying and Loving your way around the globe – something as small as taking a long weekend and going to Toronto/Montreal/New York or going for a hike in Frontenac Park or Lemoine Point can be enough to recharge your batteries. Take time and take care of yourself – you know yourself best and if you need that downtime, make sure you get it. You’ll be more productive when you get back.
2. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness – A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens
The good news is that my PhD is shaping up nicely. I defended my PhD proposal in October, and got great feedback from my committee that will make my project much more reasonable (it was HUGE) and doable under the constraints of the PhD.
The whole PhD process so far has been enlightening. A PhD is much more than just a “big Masters” and trying to fulfill those requirements has been an adventure. You have to develop a project and show a range of skills, while balancing that with your interests, all the while ensuring that your project is feasible. There’s a lot of thinking that goes into it up front, and while that might make you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, this all makes your project considerably easier to do. Perhaps the toughest part is coming up with an idea, and realizing that, while you may not have anything tangible to show for it, you’re still making progress on your project. Regular meetings with your supervisor or lab group, or even just reflecting on what you’ve done over the past semester can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and progress.
Speaking of conceptualizing your PhD, one contest I suggest you all enter is the Queen’s University Three Minute Thesis (3MT) challenge. I did it last year, and you can see my reflections on it here.
3. It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him – The Hobbit, Tolkien
While you have your thesis/assignments/projects to worry about, you have to deal with life too. Sometimes things come up that you have to address: take care of those things. Otherwise they’ll just be at the back of your mind while you’re trying to work.
What are your thoughts? Any advice/pointers/suggestions for your peers?
Have a great break everyone!