Basically the PhD is a journey … a journey you will start out with all the willing of the world. I still remember the big smile on my face when I got accepted into the programme. It felt good! I was so certain of what I was going to do.I had it all figured out. For a moment or two it was all so clear.
I just forgot to consider the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ I would – still do – encounter throughout the PhD path as you mature your ideas. But that is part of the process, and also the fun even though sometimes you can’t really think of it in such way. And yes, you got it. A PhD is not linear in any sense, not even after your research proposal is accepted or the Ethics Committee gives you green light. Not even there! But how would I know? I had never done this before.
Doing a PhD is truly a work in progress, constantly in change and changing you. That’s the magic of a PhD!
Throughout that process there are two things that are fundamental to support all the ups and downs of doing and being a PhD: the supervising team and the network.
Regarding the supervising team: make sure to choose the right person. By that I don’t only mean to choose someone who is knowledgeable about the field, but someone you empathise with. Trust me, that is even more important! You will not get someone who is doing exactly the same research you are about to start to supervise you…because if that were the case then it would be their research and not yours!
What you want to is to find someone who knows enough of what you want to do, and who is also open to learn with and from you. Someone who is wiling to provide their personal views regarding the experiences they have gathered throughout the years. The good thing about having a supervisor is that you feel you are able to talk to them about your ideas and have them challenging you with their own. You don’t want someone who thinks exactly like you, but rather someone who thinks with you.
That takes me to the next and most important aspect of your relationship with your supervisor. It should feel like a partnership. There has to be mutual understanding. You need to be open about your ideas, questions and confusion stages. You need to feel you can trust and are trusted. You do not want an impersonal relationship. Your PhD is going to be pretty much your life for the next 4-5 years so make sure you are making it personal and are enjoying it (although sometimes it might not feel that way).
The other thing that is important and which will help complement the activity of your supervising team is the learning network you will be able to cultivate around you. That has at least, two purposes. First, it helps you widen your horizons and look beyond the tiny, little aspect on which your research will focus as you will be exposed to different ideas and practices they share. You do not want to shift the focus from your PhD, yet you want to be part of the wider picture. This will be crucial when looking for a job. You need to be able to show your knowledge spans beyond your PhD research project.
The network will help you connect with other PhDs and researchers. That is really important as you will be able to find people you can share the PhD joys, and the PhD blues too, with. Furthermore, you might even start collaborating with them, be it by providing feedback on their writings and/or writing together. Every PhD student should have at least one critical friend.
And on that note, I will end this post with just one more thought. A PhD can still be an individual project, but should never be a lonely experience!
In this post I have tried not to give an idealistic idea of what doing a PhD entails. Yet, do not feel totally demoralised with it. It is an experience worth pursuing, otherwise I would not be doing it.Hopefully other PhDs will pitch in with some more 1st hand experiences. It is always useful to learn from other people’s stories.
she is one of my phd mate in salford university