Self awarenessStudying for a PhD can be a lonely process, however the thoughts you have and the emotions you feel are shared by others in your ‘small’ PhD student community. In today’s ‘Reflections’, Miriam Madziga, a third year PhD candidate at the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD), De Montfort University shares some thoughts on her PhD experience so far.

My PhD journey started long before I made my application, it started in my mind, as I gave some thought to why I wanted to pursue a PhD.  I am curious and inquisitive by nature, always wanting to know ‘how’ and ‘why’ things worked the way they did. I also loved writing, which combined with a love for research would serve to my advantage. I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD but did not know what my topic area would be or what doing a PhD entailed. There were more than a thousand questions that flooded my mind. So I did what I do best when trapped in a mentally overwhelming situation, I go on holiday!

I also knew I wanted my topic area to be connected to my previous academic background/ field of ‘Environmental Economics, Waste & Resources Management’ as well as relevant to the world and society at large. I then decided to focus my research on ‘water.’ ‘What about water?’ was my next logical reasoning. I found tons of information and previous research conducted on water generation, production, treatment, supply and remediation; all from ground and surface water sources but very little on production of water from atmospheric water sources. So, I decided to look at the ‘unobvious’ aspect of water where there was very little attention and this was what gave birth to my research topic: Water from air!

Another important factor is the relevance of my PhD research to society today, water is  an element in its abundance on the Earth and yet faces global persistent challenges around the world – this led me to asking the question ‘Why’ and then to ‘Finding out what I could do about this’. My research is investigating the use of condensations systems to extract clean drinking water from air’ and I have decided to apply this especially to poor communities.

What has my PhD experience been like? It has been unlike any other thing I have ever experienced. When I first started, I felt like an octopus on skates trying to keep my balance while navigating through new territory. Nothing really prepares you fully for a PhD like doing one. Where I seemed lacking in skill or knowledge, I quickly sought assistance and applied myself. The transition onto my PhD was made smoother because my University provided doctoral training courses which gave me a better understanding of what the process was like and what skills I needed to develop to succeed.

My PhD journey has been one of self-discovery, especially of new skills and abilities I did not know I had. I have developed excellent organisational skills; planning is very crucial to enable me progress with my PhD as well as have a life outside of it! I set weekly and monthly goals for my research and look forward to rewarding myself with adventure trips such as: skydiving, scuba diving, hiking, or snowboarding.

My time keeping has significantly improved. As an undergraduate student, I recall being late so often to lectures that I was mandated to take a ‘time keeping’ session – to which I arrived late! However, the contrast between who I was then and now has been huge and I am pleased to see the transformation in my research as well. I can tell you to some degree of precision what my calendar is like from today even up to the end of the year – all a credit to planning management.

I suppose my mental preparation was what paved way to the resilient spirit which kept pushing me through tough times, challenges and setbacks. The biggest challenge of all for me was funding as I am self-funded. This meant that being a PhD candidate was akin to working a regular job with no income for a minimum of 3 years while simultaneously sourcing funds to enable me conduct my PhD research.

A sustaining factor was the desire within me to pursue a PhD despite all odds. Call it kismet, but suddenly opportunities began to emerge to aid me along the way. Assistance in form of business consulting opportunities, networking and monetization through my blogging platform and sales of products I had made and books I had published. I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. This in turn opened up more connections and networking opportunities with people, industry and other Universities.

My PhD journey has also been sustained by the self-motivation that I continue to generate within myself. When the going gets tough; I find comfort in the place of prayer and meditation, laughter and joy amongst friends. I build endurance, clarity and stamina at the gym and while playing roller derby with my team Roller Derby Leicester, and most importantly the love and support of my family and loved ones.

So, if you aspire to elevate yourself to the league of extraordinary researchers, develop new skills, make new connections and progress in your career, I will most definitely say ‘YES’! Go for a PhD!!

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