Yes PhD is tough in many aspects. Here is a full list of difficulties while doing PhD.
- Lack of support from PhD supervisor.
- Mental stress while doing PhD.
- No time for personal life.
- Highly routine and monotonous life.
- Depression rules you for overthinking.
- Not able to participate in outdoor activities.
- Finding difficulty to read books. ( Technology driven generation)
- Lack of proper resources about your topic.
- Lack of friendships.
How to handle tough PhD
• Don’t make rash decisions
First things first, as people might have already told you, embarking on a PhD is not a piece of cake. If you are dreaming of being a professor, ask yourself the following question- what would you do if that doesn’t work out? What other options do you have if not the professorship?
Moreover, even before thinking about starting the PhD, ask yourself another question- are you mentally prepared for it? Working on a PhD takes a lot out of you and might push the boundaries of your mental health and stability.
Asking such questions are not meant to discourage you from pursuing the degree, but you still need to prepare yourself for what you need to expect out of the degree.
More than often you might have heard people talking about how extremely difficult it is to enroll in a PhD and actually complete it. We’ve all been around students and/or teachers ranting about the near-impossible task of being a PhD. That makes you wonder, is it really that hard? Is it really worth the hype or is it just a mere exaggeration of reality?
No matter what people might tell you, a doctoral degree is like a luxury only a privileged few can afford. There are no real breaks, and at times you might find yourself dazed and confused.
However, all you need to remember is your love for the work that you do and the endless strife to be the best that you can be. Some people might even say that if you’re not sacrificing your sleep or if you’re not skipping your meals, then you’re probably doing it wrong.
There is a dark side of all Ph.D. horror stories that nobody really talks about.
People not only lose physical strength but at times it might also cost you a greater loss- psychological stability.
Let’s begin from the beginning and discuss the do’s and don’ts as we go.
• Choose a relevant subject/topic
Students and scholars decide to take a Ph.D. with unmatched enthusiasm and high spirits. However, more than often, they find themselves in a dilemma- what could possibly be their basis for the thesis?
Choosing a topic or a subject as a basis for their PhD becomes a huge question in itself as completion of a PhD takes a lot of time, sometimes an entire decade of a person’s life, and 10 years is a long time to lose interest in a subject that they once took interest in.
This is one of the primary reasons why the drop-out rate of PhD scholars is high. Often students realize that the topic they initially chose is weaker in scope and applicability than they initially believed it to be.
Let’s talk facts. In the United States, only 57% of students were able to obtain their PhD after 10 years of their enrollment. In the UK, the drop-out rate of PhD students went to 40%.
Moreover, choosing a topic is pertinent to whether it would strengthen their choice of career or not. An unsuitable topic for thesis might raise quite a lot of brows and tend to question a scholar’s commitment to their field of career.
According to a study conducted by Bernard Casey, your topic of the thesis is a key component in deciding how much you get paid in the future.
Pay value varies across individual disciplines. Topics concerned with social science, arts and language pay way less than other disciplines.
The journal Science reported that the PhD in the subjects like mathematics, engineering, and sciences can earn as much as $20,000 more per year as compared to people without the degree.
According to PayScale, an organization that analyses the pay of the American workforce, people with PhD earn more than their peers without doctorates and also have access to more jobs than them.
In some cases, doctoral candidates start with $80,000 as the cut for their first job which only increases, unlike the case with people without the PhD.
• Ask Questions
Before you embark upon your journey towards your PhD, you need to ask around as much as possible. Consult your peers, professors, supervisors, and whoever else you can.
You can also approach the internet regarding this and look at the experiences of other people. Only when you seek out information will you get to know the number of options that you actually have in different aspects of the thesis. Do not wait for your career counselors to chalk out a plan for you.
Instead, stay informed, and if possible, stay in touch with your alumni in this regard, who might prove to be useful in familiarizing you with how it all works.
• PhD is not a course
Many students and scholars embark upon their PhD journeys with the consensus that PhD is a continuation of their graduation course. It’s not. It’s not about studying and passing exams anymore.
It’s not about getting good grades anymore. It’s about becoming an expert in your field of interest. A PhD degree is all about knowing everything about something.
You might have to take up a few courses if you haven’t finished your master’s degree yet, but those are just to give you a better and deeper understanding of what you need to know for your thesis.
After you finish your thesis, you will not be ranked upon on the basis of your grades or how well you performed in your courses but solely on the content of your research.
Avoid spending too much time on courses than on your research topic.
• Take a Break
While deciding on enrolling for a PhD, do not jump-start into the program. Many students, fueled with enthusiasm, decide to enroll in a PhD program even before the completion of their graduation.
Starting on a PhD is a big decision. It decides the course of the next five-ten years of your life. Do not make a rash decision and throw that amount of time under the bus just because you are excited.
Take a break after the completion of your graduation and actually enrolling on a PhD program. This period in between might be insightful and help you make decisions with a rational mind.
Getting information outside of a graduate program might also help you decide in the type of career you want to pursue in the future; whether you would want a full-time research job or if you’d like to do something involving both scientific and non-scientific skills.
• Transition is Important
Your graduate courses might help you develop an interest or help you decide the topic of your thesis, but do not rely solely on the basis of how interested you were in these courses.
A lot of scholars think that their topic of the thesis should be connected with what they’ve already studied in their graduate courses since they already know about their area of research.
Do not make that mistake. Do not make it the base of your doctoral research simply because you already worked on it.
There are a lot of degree holders who chose a thesis topic completely unrelated to their graduate courses and their transition went smoothly. Do not give weight-age to what you already know, rather rely more on what you’re actually interested in.
• Keep your options open
Although you might want to be completely committed to one field of particular research work, you might find that it wasn’t interesting enough to work on for the entire duration of your thesis. Like we already talked about, it is easy to lose interest in a particular topic which you were once interested in.
PhD is a long journey and it is important to choose a topic which maintains and builds your interest in it, not diminish it.
Therefore, in order to avoid falling prey to monotonous research, make sure your research institute has diverse research options. More than often you might find professors working on more than one research fields and not on the same narrow research area.
Make sure that there are at least three professors working in a research area you imagine working yourself in. Moreover, make sure to explore as many research groups as possible, right from your first year.
This will help you in enhancing the diversity in your thesis and not limiting it to one narrow area of focus.
• Choose your research adviser(s) wisely
This is a crucial part of your thesis, as your research advisor is the person who is going to be thoroughly involved as you sojourn on your quest for the degree.
A research advisor has a lot of influence on how you go about your thesis. Many times students change their advisors more than often because they simply don’t like their advice methodology or something as trivial as the personality of their supervisors.
This is not a mere exaggeration but an important aspect in your research as your research supervisor will influence in every stage of your thesis. If you are assigned an advisor who simply won’t listen to what you’re saying or keeps rebutting your arguments, you won’t get far in your thesis.
That will simply lead to confusion and doubts and reduce your productivity. Moreover, if your supervisor is absent, or for that matter, superimposes himself on you, get rid of them.
Overbearing supervisors are not good for your doctorate either. They might cause you to deviate off topic or give you more reasons to stress over stuff you needn’t stress about.
A lot of times you might face an unusual situation where you have more than one supervisors- that they might not get along. Get rid of them too. You don’t need to get more confused than you already are.
• What to Consider and what to Disregard
While you might think that the location of the university you choose to join is not important you might be wrong. Many people make this mistake of thinking that as they are going to be spending most of their time inside the libraries and laboratories, the location is not important.
However, this might not always be the case. A city with an unsuitable climate, or with an anti-social or overly-social atmosphere might affect you in ways you might not have foreseen.
On the other hand, the reputation of the research institute or the university might seem integral, but in actuality, it isn’t. What actually counts is the rapport of the individual department you work in or the research group you join. That is the actual place where you develop personal and professional connections.
In fact, when you go for a job after your research thesis is over, your area of research and the people you have worked with count more than the prestige of the university you finished your thesis at.
Make sure that you interact well enough with your fellow researchers and also invite their inputs in your thesis. Apart from that, maintain contacts with graduate students and other researchers through networking, conferences and journal clubs.
• Funding Issues
A lot of PhD students rely on external funding for their research work. However, this might become stressful when the funding is reduced or cut short halfway through the research.
Therefore, students should ideally not completely rely on external funding and have alternate sources of funds as well. They need to maintain personal funds just so that their research work doesn’t suffer a setback as a result of a lack of money.
• Lack of Motivation
Embarking on a Ph.D. is like riding a Ferris wheel- you will have your moments of highs and lows. You will constantly need a reason for motivation and many times you won’t find one.
Do not panic, this is very common to people pursuing their doctorates. Also, do not focus on achieving the end product. Think about how the entire ordeal would improve your research skills and what else would it give to your personal development.
Do not base the entire experience on completing your thesis but also take time to socialize with your fellow researchers and get to know them. This might end up helping you getting their reviews and inputs about your own research.
However, this doesn’t mean you make it all about work and no play. At times when you think that you can’t carry on, learn to call it a day and enjoy yourself a little.
Keep in touch with your kith and kin and make sure that you talk to them on a regular basis; this will keep you motivated and also provide you with the needed support.
• Learn to Manage your Time
The time period of your thesis would be way different than how it was during your graduation. You will not only have lectures to attend assignments to complete and attend seminars, but you will also have to take time out for your research as well as consultation with your thesis adviser.
In addition, you will need time to work out your research in the lab as well as time for collaboration with your fellow research peers.
You might also want to pursue the extra-curricular activities that you did during your graduation. Boost up the time management skills you developed in college because they will definitely come in handy.
You might take time to adapt to the new schedule and will mostly have to sacrifice sleep but you need to learn to take time out for everything.
Do not miss out on important aspects of your social life but also do not waive off your responsibilities in the name of the degree.
• Refine your Research
Learn to enhance your researching skills. Although one doesn’t really receive formal training for improving one’s research methodology, you need to learn to do so while on the go.
Moreover, learn to make the best use of the facilities your university/research institute provides.
Make the best use of the online research portals that your research institute provides you to access.
Ask for tips from your research advisers and interact with the existing scholars in your university to learn how things work. Your peers play an important role in developing the right behavior which in turn helps you develop the right scientific attitude.
Anybody can open up the internet to get to know things, but you need to learn to know what is it that you need for your research. This might be a tad difficult in the beginning, but you will eventually get used to it and get better at it.
• Love What You Do
A PhD program is a long-term commitment, and there might come a point in time where it all starts to lose relevance. All you need to do is remember the passion you decided to start it with.
Of course, the schedule of a PhD student is more flexible than a graduate student, but it requires a greater deal of mental abilities and perseverance to get through.
Starting on a PhD might give you a lot of free time on your hands, but you are never really free. The thought of your thesis always remains in the back of your head.
Unlike a 9 to 5 job, you cannot really stop thinking about the pending experiments you have to do or the research papers that you wanted to get started on.
The idea of the weekend starts to lose relevance and you might find the ceaseless number of assignments impossible to do, but you need to remember the very thought you first started to work on your thesis with. Remember, no job is easy.
• The Other Side of the Coin
There is a lot at stake when it comes to the journey of getting your thesis. While there might be a lot of good aspects to it, you need to consider the negative side of it as well.
Apart from the quandary with the topic, you might face some other pit-stops in your way before you dream of accepting the Nobel or at least getting the coveted title of ‘doctor’ before your name.
These may include a lack of organizational support, unsupportive and unconcerned supervisors, absentee or overbearing supervisors, delay in changing the thesis topic, and unfair rules of viva examinations.
Moreover, a lot of students drop out of their PhD courses years after spending time on it because of the depletion and deterioration of mental health that the thesis might bring.
Make sure that you have good friends and supportive relationships which help in brightening your spirits when everything feels low.
You need to learn to handle the intellectual challenges as well as the psychological ones that come with it. Many a time you might feel like you’re intellectually incompetent to work on your thesis or that it all is not worth it.
A lot of scholars develop what experts call the ‘impostor syndrome’ wherein they feel that their high grades in their undergraduate and master degree programs were an administrative mistake. According to a 2014 issue of Forbes, as much as 70% of total American doctoral students suffer from the impostor syndrome at one stage of their thesis or the other.
However, this is all a part and parcel of what comes with the degree. If you’re capable of handling the pressure and working hard towards achieving what you had envisioned in the start, you might as well be contributing towards better self-esteem.
According to Psychology Today, nothing motivates people more than deciding goals and working towards them and achieving them.
Conclusively, Ph.D. is not a child’s play but saying PhD is tough means one would be an overstatement. It is not easy either, but then, what is? All you need to ask yourself is that whether those years of your life will be worth it in the end. Despite all the Ph.D. horror stories that you might have heard, believe in yourself and stick to our goal until you achieve it.