In 2010, I had a great opportunity to begin an exciting journey towards a PhD, one I had longed for in my career as a scientist; it was the best thing that happened to my career. During this peculiar journey, I learnt very useful lessons, and I promised to share them with others who may be embarking on a similar voyage (or thinking of doing so); I am pleased to fulfill that promise as I share the lessons below…
1. PASSION DRIVES EVERYTHING:
Doing something you are not passionate about can be extremely stressful; it is therefore important to apply passion to whatever you find doing, other than that, don’t even start. Being passionate about your study and its relevance to communities will sustain you through the low moments.
2. PLAN AHEAD
Planning is key for a successful PhD, and indeed anything worthwhile in life. I found myself involved in several activities (field work, lab-work, data analysis, writing, making presentations, etc.). Planning was (and still is) pivotal in realizing my set goals. Plan the entire PhD study before you begin. There is a saying that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” As you focus on the overall goal, organize and keep an eye on the processes that will get you to the goal.
3. UPDATE SUPERVISORS FREQUENTLY
Frequent updates to supervisors will help you to correct mistakes early enough, rather than too late in the PhD study. Comments from supervisors on your work can make you look like a “brainless idiot” but you are not. Appreciate that those comments are nothing personal, but just a critique to help you to improve your work, and actually help you to gain more insights in your area of study. I had great supervisors and I’m forever grateful to them.
4. GOOD WRITING AND SPEAKING SKILLS WILL HELP YOU GO FAR
As an intellectual, writing and speaking are inevitable. These skills can be perfected with practice, just like any other venture. Be willing to learn, practice and thus adequately hone those skills. Be prepared to revise manuscripts/thesis as many times as possible until you have a best draft. This process actually prepares you for writing of articles and proposals to secure grants for your research. Trust me, it takes a lot of sitting hours, writing and re-writing to arrive at a great manuscript or a winning proposal.
5. MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS
I got to understand why people start the PhD and abandon the program along the way; the stress in this journey can be unbearable. The stress may lessen by deliberately spending time with family and friends occasionally, or taking a vacation from the routine work and away from writing as well. Prayer and meditation can be helpful. Talk to other PhD students; you could learn a thing or two on how they have handled their challenges.
6. PERSISTENT PATIENCE IS KEY, NEVER GIVE UP IN THE PROCESS
There will be thousand and one reasons to give up in the PhD program, but please DON’T, because you have all that it takes to get to the END—nothing can stop you if you don’t stop yourself. Be mindful that in life, good things take time to mature.
7. KEEP A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
Getting a PhD or any good thing in life is a lot of hard work, full of ups and downs. Having a positive attitude to the PhD journey or in life is crucial; this worked (and is still working) wonders for me. Choose to see the positive side in every situation. A positive outlook pays dividends; embrace each challenge with an open mind till you reach the end.
8. FAMILY SUPPORT IS CRUCIAL
Being a mother and a wife, I could not have gone through the PhD journey without support from my family: my husband, our parents and siblings, cousin, and the children too. They gave me all the support I needed. I salute all of them; I am forever grateful. We are human and cannot do it all alone.
9. MONEY IS NOT A MOTIVATION
Money should not be your primary motivation for doing a PhD, or anything on this planet; focus on solving a problem or problems, and society will say thank you in so many rewarding ways, including monetary gains.
10. WHAT TO DO WITH A PHD
Having a PhD is just the beginning of a much longer journey; now it’s time to apply the skills acquired to help solve the numerous problems in order to help mankind. This calls for a lot of introspection, determination, hard work and focus.
Having stood on the the shoulders of giants to come this far, also requires that you also be a shoulder for others to stand on.
Your best is yet to come!
If you find these lessons to be helpful, please let me know, and do share with others.