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Being A Fifth Year PhD

Grad school has proven to be a longer journey than I originally planned. In my plucky days at the beginning of my program I was a little naive, but full of hopeful energy about my prospects. I thought that I could make it through my four-year program with pluck and determination. The tired and disillusioned upper-year students were not a vision of my own future, because I had made it through a rigorous Master’s program in a year while also applying for doctoral programs. I could do this. 

What I didn’t understand was that a doctoral thesis was a marathon, as opposed to the sprint of my MA. The program required perseverance more than anything else because a multi-year solo project is something that wears you down over time. And other responsibilities, such as teaching, grant applications, committees, all eat significantly into both your time and energy reserves. I also did not plan for a major surgery, significant familial responsibilities, and a global pandemic to happen during my time at Queen’s. 

Before I knew it, I was outside of my funding years without even a completed draft. It isn’t easy being a fifth year (or beyond) in the doctoral program. There is significantly less money, more work, and the questioning of peers as to when you will finish. I struggled with my own perception of myself as a student because I was taking longer than the ‘time’ allotted by the university. But the reality of the PhD program is that most students will go beyond their four years to complete their thesis. Taking ‘extra’ time to complete your thesis is nothing to be ashamed of! Most of us are or will be in the same boat! 

There are advantages to being an upper year PhD. You can help newer students navigate their early days in the program. You can reach out to other departments beyond your own for work and research opportunities and expand your social and academic circles. You also can experiment with new ways of reading and writing to see if your research style has changed since the beginning of your time in graduate school. Most of all, making it this far is an accomplishment. Celebrate your own perseverance! As I said above, the PhD is a marathon. There are few milestones and it is hard to stick it out, but you have persevered! One of the most important parts of the PhD is actually mastering the self, managing to pull yourself out of period of no motivation and eventually keep going. That is a skill! Being able to overcome the various intersections of work and life problems encountered during the PhD is something to be proud of! So whenever you feel down about taking ‘longer’ to complete your program, remember that you are not alone, and that you are just in a slower part of this race, and things will pick up soon! 

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