Are you thinking about applying to a PhD program? Are you already a doctoral student? PhD is a huge investment of time and money. So make sure you spend 15 minutes of your time reading this blog devoted to PhD program success and survival tips. I'm confident that these tips can save up to 10 years of your life, up to $1,000,000 of your money, and, most importantly, your physical and emotional health.
Friday, May 22, 2009
When I joined my doctoral program, I was encouraged to produce papers from the get-go. I had been quite good at it. By the end of my third year I co-authored a dozen papers with faculty from our department. I was praised for being so productive and was regarded very highly in the program.
And then the reality hit me. As it turned out, you had to write a dissertation to get your PhD... Something that I didn't really think about. I was too focused on producing papers. After all, this is what I was encouraged to do. I was too young and too ignorant regarding the ways academia works. I also thought that writing a dissertation shouldn't be a problem, it was going to be just another paper, albeit a big one.
Well, at that time I was already burned out from taking classes, teaching, and writing so many papers. I was hoping that I could sort of staple a few papers together and that would be my dissertation. I know that many programs allow their students to do this, and this practice makes a lot of sense.
However, I was told explicitly (together with other PhD students who were doing pretty much the same thing) that I could not use my prior published research towards my dissertation. My dissertation had to be a totally new project. The justification for this decision was that using published research towards dissertation was against the rules of the doctoral program. Needless to say, I couldn't find this rule anywhere. I think the real reason was the faculty wanting additional papers out of me. The fact that I was burned out from all that work and very demotivated due to constant poverty and me gaining a realistic picture regarding my future employment prospects didn't really bother anyone.
I remember at one point of my dissertation work I was so burned out, so depressed, and so concerned with lack of money for even basic things like food that I didn't write a line for a few months... I told my adviser that I need him to help me to get moving. His answer went like this: "Well, this is your project. You have to prove us that you can do research in order to get your PhD ". I thought to myself, "Fuck, I have 12 published papers behind my belt. I received above average student evaluations for my teaching. What the hell do I have to prove to you????". Well, technically, he was absolutely right - you need a dissertation written by you to get a PhD.
Anyways, I hope you understand what was my mistake and will avoid going down that path. Of course, you have to bribe your profs with a couple of publications before you start your dissertation. But don't make it your priority. Your priority is to graduate and get a job.