Enjoy the PhD process

One of the very first things that I say to a new PhD student is that they need to have fun! This is not quite as counter-intuitive as it might at first seem. Usually I say first that actually stamina is at least as importance as intelligence in completing a doctorate by research. I have known several very clever people who, for one reason or another, could not manage to finish the PhD that they started. This is not as surprising as it might appear, because a PhD is, almost by definition, a hard thing to complete. If you do not have the staying power when the going gets tough, the temptation to thrown-in the towel and go off to do something more interesting with your life, becomes very enticing. This is why the student (and the supervisor!) needs to really enjoy the subject that they are studying in such depth. When data and competing concepts get confusing and complicated (as they inevitably will) it is worth a lot to be able to enjoy the difficulties of the subject, even to relish them. If the topic surrounding your research question does not make you want to really absorb yourself in the fun of finding out more, then you are probably doing the wrong job. A regular “safety-valve” is helpful, whether this is a change of task – (such as spell of fieldwork) or a routine that allows a healthy balance between reading, writing, sport, family, and socialising with friends – the contented student should be able to take a short break and return to the academic battle the next day with just as much (or more) enthusiasm as when they first started. At sporadic intervals I often send my research students a link to a funny story, or a cartoon, such as can be found at www.phdcomics.com to poke fun at some aspect of the PhD research process. This website has hundreds of cartoons on almost every aspect of the PhD experience, and some of them ring so true that they are almost painfully funny. It certainly helps if we can laugh at ourselves and see things in perspective, but by far the best solution is to spend a lot of initial thinking-time considering exactly what is the best wording of the research question (and sub-questions) so that at the end of the studies both student and supervisor can honestly say that, whatever else, they had a lot of fun in the process!


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