Honest reflections of a PhD: the good, the bad, the ugly and the plain embarrassing.

Blog posted in final form: 14 September 2014

As I write this blog the Australian Government budget has been released. There are so many aspects of it that bother me. Some just plain embarrass me. Its fair to assume the government has little respect for the education of academics who will ensure the next generation is properly educated.

I want to remind people that being an academic is not the easy option. Getting into a PhD program requires a lot of hard work. Doing a PhD is even more hard work. It is so hard that it feels like something you have to survive. It has the potential to be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. Being an academic involves little job security. Constantly applying for funding. Balancing teaching and research. All the while trying to have a work life balance. Let me be very clear. It is not the easy option.

Fewer students will take on a PhD if they are required to pay for it. At 21 or so we already have at debt to the government of over $25 000. Not to mention that during our undergraduate degree we are dirt poor. The accumulated loss of income while we study already stops student from undertaking higher education. Fewer students still will stay in academics if there is less funding to employ them. We worry about the leaky pipeline where women are leaving academia. What happens when the pipe runs dry?

My advice if you know someone doing a PhD.

  1. Never ask a PhD student how things are going when they are in the last six months of their PhD unless they volunteer it.
  2. Never trust a PhD student who says they are fine when they look otherwise.

Home truths about doing a PhD

  1. It took me nine months longer than I wanted and three months longer than I could have imagined to finish my PhD.
  2. If your trying to book something non-refundable or important while you have no work life balance, get someone else to do it. You will get it wrong.
  3. I thought I had it all figured out. I loved my work, great team, happy marriage and supporting family. I thought I would not suffer during my PhD. I was dead wrong.

The preface

I share my story mostly because I thought I would not suffer. But it did. I thought it would be hard. I knew it would be stressful. I was not prepared for the reality of the situation. I am not sure any preparation could have been enough. I am not sure what I could have done differently. I am not sure if sharing this is helpful or not. I think that my actions were dangerous ... continue reading

The good

Let me start by saying that I consider myself to have had, on a whole, an excellent PhD experience ... continue reading

The bad

I spent the first two years or so feeling pressure to perform for my PhD. Mostly internally generated. This is the sort of person I am. I want to achieve great things. I push myself harder than I should. I set unrealistic deadlines. I suppose this is true for most people who take on a PhD ... continue reading

The ugly

Doing your PhD is not pretty. Your body will not thank you for it ... continue reading

The plain embarrassing

So I have an example that illustrates just what I did to my brain. Take this as a cautionary tale of what working too much can do. Do not try to organise anything at the same time as finishing your PhD. It could end in disaster ... continue reading

It was certainly character building

I feel numb about the whole PhD experience still. Its easy to write about the things I found hard. The things I wish I did different. It was also suggested to me that I should give some thought to how doing a PhD has changed me. An interesting thought ... continue reading

Epilogue: What's in a name?

Today, the 17 September 2014, my PhD was conferred (technical speak for completed). I found out almost two weeks ago that I had fulfilled the requirements of the degree. It was the second happiest day of my life ... continue reading