Making the most of your PhD – Musings of a nearly completed PhD candidate

Picture3In today’s post, Mr A, a third year PhD candidate and in the process of submitting his PhD shares some thoughts on how to manage and make the most of the PhD process.

In the final stages of the PhD, I am faced with the big elephant in the room –writing up the thesis. I feel like my brain is fried beyond recognition and  anything to keep me away from the thesis for a minute appears to be a blessing in disguise. Despite the challenges, this stage of the PhD has been quite an interesting experience with both high and low moments. Overall, I have enjoyed doing a PhD.  Looking back at my journey, there have been several key aspects that have played an important role in my progress. I hope these will be useful to other PhD candidates.

Getting the PhD Supervisor(s)-Student relationship balance right

Some people regard this as the most important and akin to a marriage of convenience.  I would definitely not disagree with this perspective and it is the major juggling act you would have to learn to manage. It is imperative that from the start of your PhD, there is an established order of how your PhD will be managed by both you and your supervisor. Yes YOU! The management of your PhD is just as much your responsibility as you think it is your supervisors’. Knowing what is expected of you at each stage of the process and delivering (at least to some extent) of what is expected is one sure way of keeping the relationship smooth. It is also important you know what you should expect from your supervisors from the early point. Simple things like their areas of strength e.g. technical, pastoral, social etc. and other things like how regularly you should meet should be established early on and maintained. For me, weekly meetings in the first year of my PhD kept me on track and on my toes all the time, in the second year it was a fortnightly exchange and in the final year it has been a case of meeting as and when we deemed necessary which worked for both of us without compromising the quality of the work being undertaken and the timelines to be met.

 Continuous development through University and external workshops

At my University and generally in most UK universities, the graduate schools organise workshops to develop the skills of the research students to help them through the PhD and also preparing them for life beyond the PhD. For any PhD candidates not taking advantage of such graduate school workshops, you are really missing out!! Examples of the type of activities at these workshops include – learning to use statistical tools (SPSS), preparing for transfer and viva voce, academic writing and structuring your thesis, applying for grants and learning to publish. External bodies also organise workshops that are beneficial to the PhD students. For example, in the UK, a group called the Voice of Young Scientists (VOYS), part of the Sense about Science network regularly organise events tailored to develop science PhD students. One of the sought after VOYS workshop helps develops researchers on how to the media and using media tools to communicate the science. Pretty awesome isn’t it?

 Keep reading – and never stop writing

As a PhD student in the sciences, my PhD has been predominantly laboratory based and at times through the PhD whilst I was reading, I wasn’t writing. Now at the stages of the final write up, I have to review old literature and going back to things which I would not have had to if I had kept the writing flowing….tut tut tut!!! Regrets!  The things I didn’t know when I started eh!! I could try blaming the fact that my research is laboratory based but knowing what I do now….it’s no excuse!! As I approach the end of the PhD I have realised how important it is to maintain a writing flow throughout the PhD.

Disseminate your work

The isolation encountered by many PhD students can occasionally create some weird alien feeling of pseudo existence in some odd planet somewhere thus, the chance to talk about your work with your peers or anybody who would care to listen is important.  It can occasionally offer you the chance to get out of the laboratory, office, University and if you are lucky, the country. My PhD journey has been enriched greatly by the opportunities I had to attend several national and international conferences and more than anything else it brings a sense of belonging and pride that you can actually be recognised for the many hours and candles burnt during the night working in your little silo. It also creates an opportunity for feedback from established researchers in your field of study which would only help to improve your research.

Join a professional society

For anyone thinking of embarking on a career in research or academia it is imperative you find a professional society in your area of interest or field to be a part of. Some societies are free for student members whilst others charge a minimal fee for the student members including PhD and postdoctoral members. Without question, this should be high up on your list before or you start your PhD and where possible, get involved. If you can, volunteer for the society as this is one sure way to get yourself noticed. I have been a member of several professional societies and undoubtedly my involvement with the professional societies has been a major highlight and key part of my PhD journey.

Keep a social life

Your supervisor will always want to ensure you are continuously working. S/he might probably want you to spend 30 hrs everyday (if it were possible) eating, thinking and dreaming about your research. Word of advice, ensure you find time for a social life. Whether it is going out for drinks, travelling or whatever “your thing” is, letting your hair down (even if you are bald) occasionally is necessary to sustain you through the PhD and ensuring you have a positive support network for an occasional ‘usual PhD rant’ is also necessary. I still have many people to thank for my occasional outbursts during the PhD especially Dr M. Av-B who’s response was usually “let’s go get a coffee”

No PhD experience is the same anywhere and undoubtedly, there are other helpful aspects that could be beneficial to you as a PhD student. The summary of all of this is simple; be professional, work hard and where you can, CREATE TIME to enjoy yourself because you will need it.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What advice would you like to share with other PhDs to enable them successfully complete? Please leave a comment below. If you would like to write a guest article or like us to cover a particular topic, please contact us on aspiringprofessionalshub@gmail.com or@AspProfHub

#CareerChat – What does it mean to be globally relevant?

2-globalA few weeks ago, I (Emmanuel) was called upon at the 11th hour by the organisers of an international student conference to replace one of their scheduled speakers. I only had a few hours to prepare to give a talk around their theme of ‘Personal and professional development for global relevance’ (Thanks Amara!) I couldn’t help but ask myself this question “What exactly does it mean to be globally relevant on a personal level?”

As a lecturer and researcher, I was forced to ask myself some questions. Are today’s courses and degrees designed with a “global eye”? Are students being prepared for a global world? How do I know if I am globally relevant? What does it take to be globally relevant? With all these questions in my mind, I chose a title (same as above), which was just as much self-reflection as it was my seminar talk. I will share a few points from my nth hour prepared slides but I am also really curious for your opinion on this topic.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to find a definition for global relevance. I stumbled on a definition of Global Relevance by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as “the required characteristic of an International Standard that can be used or implemented as broadly as possible by affected industries and other stakeholders around the world.” I have made some modifications to this definition to “The required characteristic of an individual that can be applied as broadly as possible by affected (knowing, rational, studied, responsible…) individuals, groups and other stakeholders around the world.”

Now armed this this definition, I pose a question to you as I did at the talk – Would you consider yourself to be globally relevant? Global relevance is as much an end point as it is a journey. Without knowledge of where you are journeying to, you can go on a long, unending drive until you run out of fuel. For those seeking global relevance in an area of specialism or interest e.g. sports, academic, technology, writing etc. without knowing what the end goal is might lead you into that long winding path of confusion. Perhaps it is time to look at your personal GPS and reassess your journey (hopefully your GPS is not like my old one which kept telling me GO LEFT at every turn…binned.com)

So how can we find that relevance globally?

Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.

Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.

With every good plan and desire come challenges, so Research, Research, Research. This is usually where most plans fail as the LACK OF KNOWLEDGE leads to death of the idea or what was once a great plan.

Understand your USP or Brand – in the business and marketing worlds, the terms USP (unique selling point) and brands come to mind. Understanding what your skills, attributes or ability (USP) or what your brand is in the context of your audience or the people who might need, understand or want those skills are is very important. As Paul Stafford, Co-founder of DesignStudio says “a brand will always be able to transcend barriers if audiences believe and connect with the message.”

Furthermore, whilst understanding personal attributes remains important, sharing and having a community to help you contextualise and develop your ideas is just as important if not more so it is important to Network. Remember, you are not the only one in the world with the ground-breaking or crazy idea so having a platform to harness that attribute or idea with a receptive or critical audience would do you no harm.

Finally, self-evaluation is important. With constant evaluation, you can assess whether you, your ideas or plans are progressing or whether it is stale and needs change or a revamp. Whilst preparing this talk, I came across The Success Indicator Poster by Mary Ellen Tribby, which differentiates, successful from unsuccessful people. This can be your motivational tool to start that global journey.

We would like to say thank you to all our readers. We are humbled at how far reaching our articles have ‘travelled’ and we think it is fair to say we are indeed finding our feet within those murky waters of global relevance. Please share your thoughts on this article by leaving a comment, we learn so much from them! If you have an article to share, please email us @ info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.