It’s like clockwork. At the end of each academic school year, I’m always over it. But I usually bounce back after that last final exam.
But this time, it’s different.
I officially transitioned from a PhD student to a PhD candidate as of May 1st and from that day on it’s like everything changed. Let me just say, that dreaded comprehensive exam (qualifying exam) was two days of mental torture that took me a while to bounce back from. There are no words to explain it lol. Only those who have taken a comprehensive exam can understand how mentally draining the process can be.
Nonetheless, my days are overtaken with deadlines and anxiety. Prime time for the impostor syndrome to manifest. And now that I’ve moved on to revising my dissertation proposal, I truly see what people mean when they say that this dissertation process can really feel secluded and lonely. And as a resident introvert, I already like being locked away by myself 90% of the time. However, that’s all by choice. When I’m forced to seclude myself, it’s not as fun lol
As I am living through this struggle, I wanted to share some advice for the next cohort of PhD students.
- When you begin your PhD program, ask lots of questions! Not just to the faculty, but to the students who are ahead of you. They will help you understand the culture (the politics) of the department/college and also help you learn about opportunities that are available to you.
- Play nice with your schoolmates. We’re all adults, there is no time to be petty. If you have resources, share them. Don’t keep everything to yourself. You can’t survive this journey without the support of your colleagues. But also be mindful of who you can and cannot trust.
- Compile a list of potential grants or fellowships that you can apply for to help fund your data acquisition year. As soon as I began my program, I looked into internal and external fellowships. And by the grace of God I was offered the Global Health Equity Scholars Fellowship.
- Network. Network. Don’t leave a conference or an event without connecting with at least one person. You never know who can help you secure a position after graduation.
- Allocate time on your calendar to read published articles in your field of study, to write abstracts, to write manuscripts, etc. I learned that I’m most productive between the hours of 10PM and 3AM, so this is the time that I allocate to do most of my work.
- Create folders to save all of your lecture notes. I created a main “PhD” folder and within that folder, I had sub folders (Year 1, Year 2, etc.). Within those sub folders I create more folders (Fall ’16, Spring ’17, Summer ’17, etc.). It helped me keep all of my lecture notes organized when it came time to study for my comprehensive exam. What also helped was converting all of my powerpoints to pdfs and combining all of the lectures for a course into one document. Meaning, I had all 300+ slides from my ethics course in one pdf document.
- Find one thing to treat yourself with. I’ve chosen to go get monthly massages. It’s something that I realllllllllyyyyy look forward to. I struggle with chronic back pain and muscle stiffness, and sitting in front of a computer for an extended period of time does not help the least bit.
- Workout, eat well, and drinks lots of water. Make it a goal to get in the gym often or incorporate home workouts into your busy schedule (the NIKE Training Club App is lit fyi). The eating well part can be hard sometimes for me because 1) I live with my mom and 2) I’m Haitian…meaning it gets kind of hard to say no to rice and fried plantains And when I say drink lots of water, I’m not kidding. You won’t ever see me without one of my two pink water bottles.
- Surround yourself with people who will support you throughout this journey. Luckily, most of my friends have pursued disciplines that also have a demanding workload. Therefore, we push and motivate each other through the struggle. We’ll have random impromptu kick backs. It’ll either start off as a KORE related meeting and somehow turn it 2AM social.
- For your dissertation, pick a research topic that interests you. If you’re going to dedicate over two years of your life to collecting data and writing a 500 page paper, it better be on something that you like. If not, odds are, you are going to hate every second of it exponentially more than you’re suppose to.
- Pick someone that you believe will best serve as the Chair of your dissertation committee. Not everyone who is qualified on paper, is qualified to be a mentor. Again, ask more senior students for their opinions.
- Develop a quick and concise spiel of what your dissertation project is about lol I’ve explained it so much, I almost have an outer-body experience when people ask me about it.
- Scan and save a copy of your D1, D2, D3, and D5 paperwork.
- Submit your IRB protocol early.
- Respect deadlines! I have to do better with that.
Where am I in this process you ask? Well I have this proposal defense to do, then off to Haiti I go to collect my data for my dissertation.
Year 3 is well underway.