Five years. 2015-2020.
When I started my PhD five years ago, like any new incoming student experiencing the academic world for the first time, I had naive expectations about research and doctoral education. In this article, I share my own experience and challenge five myths new students often have about getting a PhD:
1) It is all about grand ideas.
Grand ideas are a good start. However, execution of a few good ideas is what gets you through. When I started my PhD in Marketing, I had the grand vision of researching how the mobile-first world impacts consumers and firms in different domains, including retail (how we shop), education (how we learn), and healthcare (how we access health services). Many first year PhD students come in with a grand vision and think they must pursue it all. When defining the scope of my doctoral research, it helped to keep three things in mind:
2) The dissertation is the be-all-end-all of my PhD research and must have lasting impact on the field.
There are differing perspectives and philosophies on what a dissertation is and should contain. I personally found it helpful to conceptualize my dissertation as a set of related papers that together fairly represent my broad interest areas, demonstrate my empirical skills, and introduce sufficiently new ideas or insights to an existing body of work. Often, PhD students get caught up in the "impact" trap -- where we want to create impactful research right away. Consequently, no manuscript or draft seems "good enough." The danger is a resulting research paralysis, a kind of a "writer's block" that prevents progress. Along my PhD journey, lots of people gave me good practical advice that helped get my first drafts done. Three senior academics at different times told me:
3) Unless I go to a top school or find a well-known advisor, it doesn't count.
Incoming new students often place tremendous weight on top schools and popular advisors. While these factors can help, ultimately your peers, colleagues and recruiters are all looking for signals about YOU. Who are you independent of your advisor or school? What do you care about? Have you demonstrated research acumen, perseverance and initiative? Over the years, as I have seen PhD students who entered a PhD program only to find their advisor leave their job at the university or department management and budgets severely changed, this perspective may be a good reminder to take ownership of their projects despite all odds as they work to improve their circumstances.
4) Unless my advisor contributes, I cannot make progress.
Let's face it. Advisors are busy. They are constantly juggling teaching, traveling, multiple projects, and sometimes, even consulting. Waiting for your advisor to do the work for you is dangerous even if they have the best of intentions. Do your part. Do as much as you can. Go out there and find the help you need -- online, offline, at the library. Most of the problems you are waiting on your advisor to solve for you may have been solved before. Take your best solution to your advisor instead of just the problem statement. You will be surprised how much faster things are able to move.
5) More number of manuscript will help me succeed.
Advanced and finished projects with a fair pipeline are much better than a bunch of loosely connected works-in-progress or working papers. Prioritize prioritize prioritize. Yes, we all need some "fun" projects and starting new projects is always fun. As they age and get further along in the review process, projects tend to become drudgery for anyone. That's the time to push through. Instead of constantly starting new projects, finish the ones you start. Every research has weaknesses and the review process is geared to bring them up. Preempt them. Acknowledge them. Fix them to the extent possible. Turn those manuscripts back in. If you are going to get it rejected, might as well find out sooner than later.
Finally, along the way, have fun! Make friends. Explore your campus. Reach out to people. Talk to people at conferences. Talk to people outside your field. Ask lots of questions. Help others. The journey is so much more memorable that way. Best!
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