Thursday, 2 July 2009

How to finish a Ph.D.

How to finish a Ph.D.

So, what PhD is all about? how to finish it? google it and found something useful from this, quite useful though….Quoted verbetimly (credit to the author with the tips:

Begin with the end in mind
I found it always helpful to know I what my overall goal was. During my PH.D. I aimed to finish in my Ph.D. in 3 years. I didn’t make that in the end - it took 4 years – but that isn’t important. The important thing is that I knew in order to make 3 years I had to do a certain course load in the first and second term , I had to take the comprehensive exam the first time it was offered, I had a rough idea of how much time I had to write the dissertation. There are road blocks along the way and things turn out different than you expect. But if you know your overall goal obstacles won’t through you off the course, you are just taking a detour.

Comment: Yes I do have something like this is mind, for my first year , I think I can finish in 3 years, but now, in my second year, I think I need another 6-12 months to fisnish everything

You have no obligation to write an important or even useful thesis
Sometimes students set out to write this all-encompassing break-through thesis and then fail because they try to accomplish too much at once. Very few researchers achieve fame because of their dissertation work. Try to write a good dissertation, not a great dissertation. Further, don’t insist on writing a useful thesis. Your primary goal is to get a Ph.D. , not to change the world. There is enough time for changing the world after your dissertation when you have less constraints about what criteria your work has to meet.

Comment: I don’t feel like changing the world though….:D , however to write a good dissertation is difficult as well!!! speechless.:D

A psychology student told me once that he spends the entire day doing research and then forces himself at the end of the day to summarize what he found – even if he doesn’t think he found anything that day. This is important for several reasons : (a) writing helps your thoughts to crystallize (b) you accomplish your daily task which will make you feel good (c) you can track your progress (d) when you write your thesis you have material to draw on (e) you won’t forget what you were thinking two weeks ago. In my opinion most students start too late putting their thoughts into words.

Comment: Yes, I write few reports 1. Qualfying Dissertation 2. Progress report 3 Thesis Outline ( this year I would like to write few conference paper hopefully)

Enjoy your “play time”There is a time to work and a time to play. I try to work hard when I work, and not to think at all about work when I don’t work. For example, every year I fly home to Germany for Christmas. I never take work to Germany. All that would accomplish is that I would feel bad the whole time about not doing the work. When you have worked hard all week and can afford to take the week-end off, try to get out and do something fun. Try not to think about work at all.

Talk to others about your problems

After finishing his Ph.D. a social scientist at an Ivy League university told me once that at some point during his Ph.D. he had so much dissertation anxiety that he went to see a psychologist at the medical center. To his surprise the waiting room for the psychologist was packed and he recognized several other people. Everyone was there for the same reason. He later emailed one of the students he saw whether he wanted to talk about it . Within 10 minutes he got a reply email : the other student was just as desperate to talk about it. Most Ph.D. students at some point or another have problems – talking to fellow students or professors almost always helps. You are not alone. (The above mentioned student graduated smoothly and now excels working at a very prestigious institution).

Record your progress

Sometime during my second year of my Ph.D. I started writing down every week-end what I had accomplished during the preceeding week. I took great care in this and I often reread what I had done in the past few weeks. This weekly ritual became very important to me and motivated me a great deal. Sometimes in the middle of the week I would realize that I hadn’t accomplished anything to be recorded at the end of the week and I would make sure I would get something done. In addition, I kept a list of things to do at the white board and marked each item off once I had done it. I wouldn’t erase it until a few days later though – because that gave me the satisfaction of seeing what I had accomplished already. I still follow this habit to this day. During a Ph.D. you often try something and it doesn’t work in the end. That can be frustrating – but I feel that tracking what you have done helps to overcome this frustration. The path to success has unexpected twists and turns in a Ph.D. – and while a failed attempt looks like no progress it really is.

Comment: I need to start this….As I have not started doing something like this, It may be useful towards the end…It is not that too late to finish this…:D

Don’t find excuses – don’t do too many other important things.

Some of the brightest students sometimes have trouble finishing because they are so successful doing other things that may reasonably also be considered important. A very bright young fellow I know kept taking on temporary consulting jobs working for the UN in Brazil and all kind of other exciting and useful jobs. Working for the UN in Brazil is a great experience and you may not want to pass it up. But at some point finishing your Ph.D. outweighs taking on extra consulting jobs.

Choose a dissertation topic you are passionate about

You will do your best work when you work on a topic that you really care about. This not always possible – but if you have the choice go for it. Also, it is better to come up with your own thesis topic rather than having your supervisor find you a thesis topic. You will find it easier to care deeply about a thesis topic that you came up with yourself.

Work on your strengths, not on your weaknesses

I was once fortunate enough to have a brunch with the famous statistician Erich Lehman – organized by Agnes Herzberg in Kingston, Ontario. Dr. Lehman had an unusual career and had many things to say. I will never forget the following advice he gave : when in England the professors noticed that his background in mathematics was much stronger than in physics. They therefore forced him to take extra classes in physics. On hindsight Dr. Lehman felt that that was a big mistake. He didn’t have any passion for physics and he claims he wasn’t good at it either – so there was an extraordinary effort going into something that wasn’t necessary. There may be situations where our passion requires us to work on something we are not good at. For example, my friend Fiona was never interested in any handyman work. However, she was a theatre major and some point she had to know technical theatre operations. And when it was relevant to theatre, she all of the sudden took an interest in handyman work as it related to theatrical set construction. Unless necessary though I always thought that it was good advice to work on one’s strengths – because otherwise we’ll be constantly disillusioned and frustrated.

Take charge – it’s your life not your supervisor’s

I have always found taking an active role leads to better results than a passive or reactive role. It makes life more exciting. For those of us who like playing computer games – it’s like the difference of playing the game and watching the game. Playing is just more fun.

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