24 February 2016

PhD Advice - Helpful and Unhelpful

One of the joys of doing a PhD and ministering to folks who are getting PhDs is learning to reflect on the experience. An important part of that is sharing the struggles and joys of the experience with others. Getting a PhD is hard; we all need the support. At the same time, I also believe it's very much worth it: getting to go to grad school and writing a dissertation is a privilege and a gift. But it's still hard and overwhelming and even leads to depression for many.

Getting a PhD is even more complicated for females, I think, even though there are quite a lot of us doing them! There's even a recent book written about this, which I'd recommend: Our dissertations, ourselves. Perhaps part of the challenge in being a female is the strange assumptions about females doing PhDs like 'you won't be able to get married' or 'don't you want to have children.' And yes, I have had both of those assumptions directed at me.

One of the challenges of getting a PhD is knowing how to do it. Many of those around us, including those who care about us, will want to try to give helpful advice. Asking a grad student how his or her thesis is coming is not always received well (see PhD comics). But what does one say? A lot of advice is more unhelpful than helpful: e.g.,  I know others who've finished faster than you, a good thesis is a done thesis, you won't get a job, and more: see Thesis Whisperer's article on Unhelpful PhD Advice.

YES! I, too, would like to have my dissertation finished now already. I know Matthijs would, too.

Do I worry about whether I'll finish? Not so much. Do I wonder about how I'll finish? More so. Most of the time the biggest challenge hasn't been in writing the dissertation but in figuring out what's preventing me from writing. Unfortunately, there's very little advice - even from those closest to me and my dissertation - that can help resolve that challenge, at least partly because I recognize that the reasons for not writing keep shifting.

No comments: