PhD is stressful on its own. Its nature is just enough to kill your brain cells. You feel weak, you feel dumb, you feel proud, you feel happy, then again you feel down, tired, … In short you find your face making all the emoticons that your keyboard can make!
OK it is not that bad maybe but it is a long journey and long journeys are even longer when you feel insecure following an unknown path slowly without a compass or say Google Maps!?. Thankfully you have your supervisors who hold your hands when you attempt to turn wrong directions. But never forget when you ask them “where are we going?” they don’t have the answer always. It is up to you to find that light in tunnel.
- 1st year is full of questions, full of obscurity. You ask yourself where I am all the time, what I’m doing, why I’m doing… Self questioning kills you along with THE other big question coming from all directions: “What your research is about?” … OK if you are lucky you know what you are doing, but in usual cases you just think you don’t know what’s all this about and why you are doing what you’re trying to do! At some point you question your intelligence: “I have been a great student all my life, I won awards, completed my degrees with distinction etc.” but what’s wrong now? Then you start comparing yourself with other PhD students, especially the first years. As 3rd years seem holy 🙂 Don’t panic you are not mad, you are just a 1st year PhD student.
- Towards the end of your 1st year, you start to re-gain a bit confidence, you feel better to tell people what you’re doing, you present your work with confidence and you feel ready for your 2nd year. You think “proudly(!)”: alright that’s it, here are my research questions!!! Don’t be happy that early, you will keep changing those questions even in your final year 🙂 Sorry truth is harsh! Then, another slam in your face! You do some work, but then you have to say bye to that one and be ready to change your PhD topic slightly. Not once maybe three times! Then all over again… In your 2nd year with the support of your supervisors you apply for a doctoral consortium (This is the biggest recommendation I can give; as in that 2 pages you decide, discuss and learn your PhD and feel much much better confidence-wise!). Then all of a sudden you start to see some sort of shine, yeah that could be the light in that PhD tunnel 🙂 Then the rest is all over to you. All you have to do is “just do it!”. Time-management is the biggest issue as there are no deadlines in that journey you should plan and find your own deadlines. Then you need to learn so many new things on your own, how to collect data, analyse it, present it (and how to write if you are non-native as me!! (Ta-DA new obstacle!)). When you feel alright about your PhD’s progress your main-supervisor could ask you to see him in his office. You probably had a bad day anyway and you go to his office. While you are telling him how bad your day was he tells you: “I’m moving to Australia”! Ooops… That insecure feeling again… New supervisor has been assigned to you, you scared, upset and think: “why meeeeee?” Then while you are so down, you learn one other PhD student lost her supervisor. Her supervisor dead due to sudden heart attack. Then you think well alright I’m OK at least I’m prepared for the change; anything can happen!?
- In your 3rd year, that holy final year, although you lost your main supervisor you feel weirdly OK. You find yourself giving advise to 1st years, telling them they’ll be fine, all this obscurity will fade away soon and so on. Then you really see that light! You know what you should do, time is tight but well PhD requires hard-work anyway. When everyone goes home for Christmas break; you stay, thinking you will work. Then you drop your work laptop and broke it just before Christmas break. You give it to IT, but you get it after break of course; as they are closed for 2 weeks. But luckily as you learned already you should back up, you have all your files in your external hard-drive. You work with your own PC. If you have, your poor partner wants you to finish quickly, supports you, encourages you and when you cry for no reason looks at you without understanding why you cry or why you feel that way; but he keeps supporting you. He doesn’t understand why you always want to cook or clean rather than writing but he supports your procrastination moments too 🙂 My partner supports me for 9 years anyway in all circumstances. I know him since I was 19 so I’m lucky but I don’t know whether he is lucky to have 3rd year PhD student as fiancee. Anyway let’s assume you want to get marry, you tell him to do the wedding after your thesis submission and he understands 🙂 You then decide just after Christmas romantically have the civil ceremony and you can have the reception after your thesis submission! You plan your photography, hair, make-up, flowers, dress, pay hotels and weekend honeymoon (well you’ve got a PhD to do so you can’t have more than 3 days can you? :)). Just 2 days before the big day you got a phone call from your country saying that your fiancé’s father is in hospital, has internal bleeding in his kidneys and has high death risk. You cancel everything, try to book last minute tickets to your country and it is just a nightmare. You can’t work 2 weeks but thankfully his surgery goes well and you are back again. Still single, still got a PhD to do and you open your blog that your supervisors asks you to write all the time and start typing: “What else can go wrong?”