“the” process

Last Friday was the first of the postgraduate seminars within POLSIS and the topic was “The PhD process from beginning to end”. One of my supervisors was the presenter so some of the things she had to say came as no surprise to me, but on the other hand, I wish that I had attended this talk 12 months ago. Then again, we can be told that such and such is going to be so and so and do we really take much notice or is it fair to say that we must experience things for ourselves in order to fully (better) understand them? In my case the latter applies.

There were some interesting points made during this seminar and, being the note taking addict that I am, I managed to jot down 3 pages of information, some of which I will share with you here. These come from the presenters own experience undertaking the process herself, but more importantly, from supervising PhD students over the past decade or so.

Firstly, over 50% of people who start PhD’s fail to complete them. There are obviously a myriad of reasons why they don’t complete but some common ones are:
* Didn’t have a good reason for starting in the first place.
* Wanted to continue studies and thought that doing a PhD would be an extension of the undergraduate process, but it is not.
* Can’t deal with the solitary nature of the process.
* Other life issues get in the way.
* Some people discover they simply hate the whole process.

Most people don’t finish in the within the timeframe of 3.5 years (the time allotted for scholarship funding) and the average for full time students is 5 years.

Those who finish possess common qualities:
* Not necessarily the brightest or best credentialed candidates.
* Have good time and life management skills.
* Work to a daily routine.
* Deal with other life issues in a structured way.
* Take responsibility for their project.
* Have good support outside of academic supervision e.g. partners/spouses, family, fellow post grad students.
* Have good relationship with at least one of the supervisors.
* Have some sort of driven quality (bordering on neurotic, must finish at all costs).

Advice to students considering a Research Higher Degree (RHD).
* What are the underlying reasons?
* What are the things they want to do in their lives?
* If they are straight out of an undergrad. degree do they realise how much of their young lives this will consume?

Year 1
* Build a routine. Set 35 hours per week aside for “actual” work.
* Keep a log book of all activities.
* Build researcher life skills, e.g. attend library and student services workshops.
* Establish support within the postgrad community.
* Establish mutual expectations with supervisors.
* Schedule regular meetings with supervisors.

* The most difficult period next to finishing.
* Most people underestimate the time it will take to finish the SOI paper.
* Expect it to take 3-4 months and 3-4 drafts at least.
* Hardest part is bringing the topic out of the “ether” and making it into a manageable package.
* Over 50% of students fail the first confirmation attempt.
* 3 months provided to attempt again.
* A second failure student advised to withdraw.
* After presentation it’s easy to lose focus, need to maintain a plan of the overall project.

Year 2
* Make links with people outside the school.
* Present a work in progress paper at a conference.
* Sustain relationship and meetings with supervisors.

* Takes longer than most people expect.
* Often requires new balance of life/money issues (if it’s gone out of the scholarship funding period).
* A need for sustained focus (other life issues are compromised).

* Extremely satisfying.

Hopefully, writing these points down will help me remember them in the future when my “sustained focus” is becoming blurred.