On dealing with PhD

It seems that my post about PhD program has interested some people. I would like to add some tips here, either for those considering PhD or for those whose spouse / children / friends are journeying on the PhD path.

1. I guess this advice is much heard of: PhD students should consider themselves working on a professional, important job instead of being a student. This will avoid much disillusionment and disappointment in the later part of the program. (I read this advice on the guide for Purdue’s graduate school — and have now realized how true it is). Do not expect to have summer holidays — those are for undergrads. Do not expect that you will surely graduate just because you have been working hard for 4 years or more.  Again, that is for undergrads.  Do not expect that anyone will tell you what to do. 

2.Do not compare one’s achievement to others’. This is related to #1.  We all know that in real life, one’s achievement depends not only on one’s acumen, but also in his /  her environment.  Unlike in undergrad, where everyone has the same lecturer and sits for the same examinations, in PhD program each person will have different professor and different research topic.  Everyone is a unique case.  It is more similar to the real world than to schools.  We have seen bright young persons joining good companies / starting businesses, achieved many accomplishments, earned good money, etc.  On the other hand, we also have seen equally bright persons joining equally good companies / starting equally promising businesses, but failed miserably.  Well, the same thing for PhD.  So do not ask your friend / spouse / child those questions “why haven’t you graduated yet? Dr. X and Dr.Y started their PhD at the same time with you”, “did you hear that So and So are sent to SomeGreatUniversitiesOverseas ? so when is your turn?” Well, those are as rude as asking a person why he has no car while his neighbour has 3, given that they have been working for equally long period and that they have similar education background.

3. It is OK to quit PhD. People do quit their job for various reasons, don’t they? So the same thing applies.  But of course, as in everything else in life, it is advisable to decide to quit only after one is perfectly sure that he / she has given their best shot.

4. A personal retrospection.  These days I start to realize that one of the most important things I learn in my PhD is not related to my research.  I think that I have learned that everyone (perhaps there is a few exceptions) must at some points of their life feel like a loser.  I have encountered such points, and I realize that it is not the end of the world.  I have also learnt to be more sympathetic to those who are currently at such points. I have learnt to reject a false assumption of mine that those who do not succeed are simply not good enough or not trying hard enough.  And I begin to understand the beauty of the Gospel: that the Lord does not reject losers.

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3 thoughts on “On dealing with PhD

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  1. I am doing PhD right now. And it is a good article. Numpang menambahkan sedikit hal:
    Setuju dengan analogi PhD Program bukan seperti Program S1/S2, justru seperti pekerjaan/kehidupan. Tetapi ada masalah utama di Indonesia, kebanyakan orang melamar PhD or S3 itu pemikirannya adalah bahwa untuk melanjutkan studi, yang mana belum tentu relevan untuk setiap orang. Jadi pemikirannya masih linier bahwa habis SD, terus SMP, terus SMA, terus S1, terus S2. Padahal, S3 itu benar2 sesuatu yang sangat berbeda. S3 itu diarahkan untuk jalur riset/akademis. Sehingga Program S3 yang memakan waktu 3-4 tahun (or more) itu adalah semacam training kehidupan riset/akademis. Misalnya kehidupan Sir Isaac Newton atau Albert Einstein. Mungkin kisah Newton atau Einstein itu perlu ditelaah juga bahwa mereka menghabiskan waktu bertahun2 hanya untuk membuktikan suatu teori, kadang eksperimennya terbukti dan tidak sedikit pula eksperimen yang gagal. Ini sangat berbeda dengan Program S1/S2 yang relatif “lebih jelas” struktur perkulihannya (kelas, tugas, ujian, dll).
    Masalahnya tidak banyak PhD student yang benar2 memahami hal ini. Inilah mengapa di beberapa Universitas, mensyaratkan essay, interview yang intensif antara calon mahasiswa PhD dengan Profesornya untuk mengetahui bahwa apakah Program PhD itu sesuai dengan cita2 calon mahasiswa PhD tsb. Karena gagalnya mahasiswa PhD bukan hanya kerugian mahasiswa ybs, tetapi Pembimbing, Departemen/Jurusan/Fakultas/Universitas juga rugi karena telah menghabiskan sumber daya tanpa hasil “lulusnya”.
    Jadi isu utamanya sebelum masuk ke Program PhD: Pastikan dulu karir Anda di mana, dan cek apakah benar2 Program PhD itu sesuai dengan tujuan jangka panjang Anda. Kalau sudah yakin benar akan cocok / “fit” bahwa Anda mau menjadi seorang “scholar”, barulah Anda mengambil Program S3 / PhD.

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