Being “successful” as a PhD carries a cliché and is subjective to individual interpretation. In my expectations the success was measured as my ability to navigate the journey within the 3 year period of my scholarship and become employed afterwards at least within three months of thesis submission. Even though I believe there is also no universal receipt to become successful as a PhD, my objective here is to discuss few characteristics/ practices which were helpful for my successful completion and subsequent employment.
For the right reasons with the right people:
I believe the seeds of success in a PhD journey are planted as early as the application stage especially during the search for potential supervisors. First of all, I believe a one should only embark on a PhD journey for their true passion for research and academia. I have come across students who have embarked upon PhD programmes for many reasons ranging from their frustration of current life situation to their will to settle down in a different country. All these could be important situations in our lives, however, I believe the passion for research and academia should provide the most fundamental driving force the journey. In addition, prospective students must also carefully consider the potential supervisory relationship more than the institution where he would actually undertake his work. I consider this to be one of the most important factors that will shape rest of the academic/personal life. Of course you are looking for a potential supervisor who is interested in your topic but you are also looking for a team of people that matches and compliments your strengths and weaknesses as an individual. As I will further discuss throughout this entry, managing relationship with supervisors is essential at all stages of the PhD journey. Your relationship with supervisors is so fundamental to success as a PhD as they will encourage your application processess, support your journey, guide your research and finally promote you as a potential employee. In addition, these two factors are so fundamental for the success as a PhD because they could be all the motivation you may have during the long and routine emotional rollercoaster you are about to get on board. In fact, I believe being a brilliant student in the past has less to do with being successful at the PhD level. It is more of a statement about passion and true character.
Test of character:
The PhD journey can be an emotional rollercoaster not just in terms of the research journey but also in terms personal life. It is not just you who needs to be conscious about the emotional investment you would be undertaking but also the members of your family/extended family as they will also become an integral part of support or challenge for your eventual success.
There are routine challenges such as finding the informants, dealing with informants, getting rejected from journals, coping with uncertainty in the job market, finding enough money to cover monthly expenses and finding time for personal relationships to name a few. It is particularly tough when family members and friends could not relate and empathise with your experience. For these and many other reasons the PhD journey is a test of character more than any other. Therefore, in my perspective, the PhD journey is about mastering to navigate such an emotional wilderness by mustering perseverance and learning to maintain a calm, undying focus while the world seemed to be falling apart around you.
It is not just about the Thesis:
Most PhD students often get consumed with the challenges relating to their dissertation and often overlook several other areas that are important to becoming a successful candidate. In my view a successful PhD candidacy involves engaging with publications, attending conferences, constructing a network, sharpening teaching experience, engaging with administration and initiating public engagement as part of potential income generation in the long term. I believe a PhD candidate must invest time in learning to become an overall early-career academic rather than trying to prepare an exceptional dissertation. It is important PhD candidates learn to take responsibility of their work as the research progresses. For example, during the first six months you may find yourself relying quite a bit on your supervisors and this needs to transform in time for you to take more ownership of your work. This provides an indication of your maturity as a PhD candidate and helps you earn trust and respect of your supervisors.
Planning and Communication Essentials:
As I have discussed so far, PhD journey is lot about learning to manage emotions and becoming a skilful academic. This journey requires a considerable amount of careful planning on a consistent basis throughout the journey. It is important to plan ahead of time and keep writing on a daily basis from the very first day in the office. Developing academic writing skills takes a long time and will continue well into your early career academic life. In addition, maintaining a clear and on-going channel of communication with the supervisors and the other key people in the department is also an essential task of a PhD. The supervisors’ role is to provide you with guidance; however, it is also important to remember their lives are much busier than yours with teaching, research, administration, other supervisions and much more. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a clear line of communication with the supervisors about your plans/expectations and be understanding of their lives.
In summary, reflecting on my experience, a PhD journey inspired by passion for research and and supported by the supervisors helps you develop to become a successful early carrier academic. It is also a journey that must be navigated with courage, perseverence and patients.
Dr. Prabash Edirisingha
Lecturer in Marketing
Newcastle Business School