Dealing with PhD stress

Dealing with PhD stress

 

Here is the thing that no one really mentions when you are thinking about committing yourself to three years of research. Stress. I can’t remember anyone mentioning it to me when I first enquired about possible projects or during my first week of reading. Or maybe they did and I just ignored it. I can’t really remember. It all seems like such a blur but I do remember feeling stressed during the process. There was physical and emotional stress that I had go through, not just at the end when I was writing up the last few pieces of the thesis but throughout the whole thing.

 

But you know who gets the PhD? That big holy grail? The one who perseveres through all the times that things got rough and it ended in tears. Dealing with stress is one thing that you must overcome to finish the project and graduate. People probably won’t tell you about it at the beginning of your project but you will probably experience one or more of the following:

 

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How to determine if you should pursue a research degree

How to determine if you should pursue a research degree

Advice for starting a PhD can come from a variety of sources including other candidates, administrators, supervisors, family, friends and the internet. It’s hard to know which advice to follow and what will make the biggest difference in the long run. Before you make that three to your year commitment, consider the following first.

1.       Research the universities or organisations where you could complete a PhD

Generally, there is much less support to guide you in choosing where to complete a PhD compared to an undergraduate degree.

When I had decided to complete a PhD, I had to contact potential supervisors and research places where I could apply. My list also included the prerequisites for acceptance as I hadn’t received a first class honours but instead a second class division 1 that was 1% off a first class. That ruled out a lot of places that required a first class grade. The university I attended didn’t send out information on what to do next after graduation from honours so I had to seek out the information myself by asking a lot of questions and what I had to do next to get accepted.

My advice, no matter what grade you received for honours, is to seek out information on the next steps for acceptance. If you feel this is your dream and you want to pursue it, find out as much information as possible on your chosen institution in terms of how to get accepted.

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How to choose your PhD research topic

How to choose your PhD research topic

Choosing a PhD research topic is one of the most important decisions you can make when starting a doctorate. This is the topic you will be engulfed in for at least three years. It is the one thing that you need to be interested in to guide you through the days that are rough, when you want to quit and just can’t take it anymore. It is the topic that you really want to answer some questions about and to make a contribution to the scientific field. It has to be motivated by curiosity and it will become the reason you wake up in the morning.

There may also be additional reasons for choosing a particular topic. There may be a passion for research to gain knowledge and develop understanding. Or to be intellectually challenged and guided by a world expert in your field. For most people, a variety of reasons are present. Some candidates have already been involved in a research project that can be easily turned into a PhD project or a project is being offered with a topic already created with funding provided and the benefit of collaborating with a wide range of organisations and experts.

The biggest difficulty, whatever the starting point, is to make sure that the topic will continue to motivate during the next three or four years. In reality, at some point you will question whether you chose the right topic. This is part of the process. The PhD process is a roller coaster of emotions and there are days when you will hate it despite the love of the topic you had initially. Although it is important that the topic chosen has been selected based on interest rather than just the interest of a supervisor or just to get a PhD, there are a variety of issues that will impact on the completion of the thesis.

Besides the interest required in the topic, the topic must be viable as a PhD project. Most candidates start their candidature with over ambitious projects and find it hard to choose their specific research question. The overall topic must be turned into a manageable research question. The job of a supervisor is to help the candidate to direct their topic into ‘bite size pieces’. But how do you turn your interest into a specific question that can be answered and tested in real life?

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You need to remember that a PhD requires flexibility, patience and humility. It is a fluid process as the research question can change during the course of your project, depending on what is found, how successful the data collection is and how the project is progressing. Even if the funding body has set the research question, the methods used to gather the data can be changed. The topic has to be kept at a manageable level, understanding that it is a process to gather knowledge on something that little is known about. It allows for growth and intellectual challenge. There will also be many obstacles during the project which requires flexibility. Perhaps the method you chose to collect the data is simply not feasible or too expensive, the apparatus you were counting on using cannot be accessed in time or you can’t contact those that manage its use. You may have wanted to compare three sites but could only access two or the weather has destroyed a site and you can’t access it. Being flexible in these cases requires intellectual strength.

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