Getting a PhD: Conclusions

I am wrapping up the ‘Getting a PhD’ series as I have come to the end of my PhD at last. The series has been an attempt to answer some of the questions I'm usually asked, particularly from prospective and new international students. If you would like further information about commonly used terminologies, the research process, and other frequently-asked questions, The Layman's guide to Ph.D. (or D.Phil.) is a good source.
Here are some of my reflections on the PhD process, based on the top tips  I received when starting out. Everything on that list was spot on for me. For example, work plans and to-do lists were my good friends indeed.  I’ll just emphasise the mental preparation part, as this was something I struggled with.

How did I manage negative moments during the research?

My experience of PhD research/thesis writing is that it can be an unforgiving master - constantly on the brain, relentlessly lashing one for daring to take a break. In my second year, some of my experimental results began to misbehave, for lack of a better word to use. This took a while to resolve. Later on, I also took up a part-time job at the university, which coincided with my writing-up stage. I fantasised about dropping out of the programme a number of times. However, these thoughts were always overshadowed by thoughts of being a disappointment to my Nigerian family and government, and to my ever-supportive supervisor. I also reminded myself about the generous funding that my sponsors invested in me, and about how fortunate I was to be doing my research in a developed country (i.e., well-equipped laboratories, helpful technicians, an abundance of pleasant attractions (distractions?)).

When that didn’t help (because a guilt trip can only take you so far), I made sure to enjoy good rant sessions with my partner and with some of my colleagues, although I tried not to overdo it for obvious reasons. Other times, I read posts on Postgrad Forum to see how other researchers were managing their low seasons. Knowing that I was not alone, ungrateful, or crazy really helped. I also prayed for more of God’s strength and guidance at especially trying times, but if you're not religious, you may find meditation helpful. Finally, this article about what the Ph.D. process feels like as an international student certainly resonated with me.

It didn’t seem like it would ever end, but on 20 January 2017, I was awarded my degree. A degree that essentially says 'yes, you're officially recognised as a capable researcher'. It is a relief to be done, and I am very grateful for the opportunity: I met many fantastic people, acquired useful skills, visited other beautiful countries, and gained more confidence in my abilities. My next steps involve applying some of the things I’ve learned, doing more research, and spending more time with loved ones. I’ve begun some work in a relevant field, and I also aim to update this blog with some of my research findings.

Thank you for joining me in my PhD journey. If you’re reading this as a prospective or current PhD researcher, I wish you the very best! Please don't hesitate to reach out to fellow researchers especially when you're struggling. Chances are, behind cool composed exteriors are people in need of some reaffirmation too.

Best wishes.

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