Learnings from my PhD journey
It was Sunday evening and I flipped through my plans and deliverable for the week, I realized the usual "follow-up with Prof" and "complete reading on..." tasks were no more on my to-do list. It should be a relief, but it was not such a relief. Little did I know that I had created a lifestyle to drive my Ph.D. dream in the last 40 months. My Ph.D. study is over but the experience, lessons, and memories are still very fresh.
Mine was peculiar because I combined a Ph.D. study with a full-time job. I honestly don't know how I pulled through with 8 publications in less than 4 years. As I reflected on how I navigated from where I used to be, I identified a few nuggets that helped me. Please come with me!
Don't lose sight of your sign-posts
My sign-posts are the driving force for a Ph.D. They answered the questions "Why Ph.D.?", "What opportunities depend on the Ph.D.?", "What is the cost of delay or drop-out?". I constantly replay the success story on my mind... seeing myself in my red-gown and sweetness of achieving my goal. These were my sign-posts, what's yours?
Take full responsibility for your study
That is what-it-is. Largely, you determine the stretch of your Ph.D. journey. This is not to say that there won't be happenings that are beyond your control (i.e data collection, ethical, health, and financial challenges). Taking full responsibility means drawing actionable plans, and providing weekly updates. Most time, the feedback is unsolicited by your supervisor, but it shows that you are responsible and accountable. Taking full responsibility also means going beyond the normal call of duty, doing something extra like learning new tools, writing a new article, etc.
Cultivate and maintain a teachable attitude
As a PhD candidate, you are allowed to present your arguments and perhaps push a new and better approach to solve known problems. However, you need to be careful not to lose your teachable attitude in the process. Be respectful, be thankful, be polite.
Manage your supervisor
It is important to show your leadership capability by knowing and managing your supervisor. A good way to achieve this is to meet with your supervisor unofficially, go for a drink, attend conferences together, share personal interests (football, politics, etc). Based on your learnings, you will get to know how to interact (manage) with your supervisor. When to send an email, when to call, when to be silent. It's amazing how you can put your supervisor under pressure when you gain mastery of managing your supervisor.
Commit to doing something daily on your study
This is like a ritual. You have to make personal commitment to do something daily ( read a journal, search a database, write a paragraph, make a phone call). If you are married, seek permission from your spouse to perform your daily ritual. This helps sustain your energy level. It does not mean that there won't be times when you really need to shut down. Shut-down is an unwritten part of the deal, its sometimes inevitable. However, always commit to making progress daily.
Create and sustain a support system
The journey could really be very lonely, you need a support system. Perhaps, a shoulder to cry on, a buddy to drink with, a ranting partner, or a virtual group (i.e Whatapp group). A support system I valued was my Ph.D. WhatApp group, where we rant, share ideas, and learn from other students' experiences. My spouse, kids, and church members were also very helpful.
I hope these nuggets will help someone become a better doctoral candidate and ease the journey to Ph.D.