If you ask most Ph.D. candidates, they will say there are roughly three stages in a Ph.D. Today, I would like to tell you a little about them!
The first stage is when you start. You\’re excited and happy. You feel like you\’re going to save the planet or make some groundbreaking discovery. You\’re basically buzzing for research! This stage is what I sometimes call the infatuation stage. At this point, everything is exciting, the experience is OMG, and nothing puts you off. You might feel like you\’re under pressure, but you\’re really not, and you lowkey love it because you know or think you\’re on the path to greatness. This is also the stage where you tell yourself that you might even finish before your time is up, maybe in two years or three max. You\’re pumped by the idea that you can actually do something great. Depending on the person, college, and supervisor, this stage can last between nine months to 2.5 years.
The next stage is what I call the imposter stage. This is probably the hardest phase. In this stage, you feel like an imposter 70% of the time, and you walk around asking yourself, \”What on earth am I doing\”?? Why did I ever think I could do this? Nothing is working or making sense, am I just stupid, or what?? Here there is a lot of self-doubts and a lot of uncertainty. It can sometimes feel like a haze or a foggy day. You\’re walking around in a dimly lit room, trying to figure out what\’s happening. You are trying to stitch something, but you can\’t see, so you keep pricking your fingers, and you just want to throw in the towel, but you can\’t because you\’ve already come this far and you\’re too stubborn to back down. Everyone says it gets better, so you keep pushing and waiting for the better.
The last stage is what I like to call the \”done\” stage. This stage doesn\’t actually mean you\’ve completed your Ph.D. It just means you\’re fed up with everything and want an end to the current situation. At this point, you realize that even though you love your research, you just want to be done. You\’re tired of all the hassle, and you really don\’t care anymore. Sure, saving the world from XYZ would be nice, but right now, you will settle for advancing the research even by a nanometer.
At this stage, you don\’t have the desire to work, but at the same time, you push yourself. You push yourself because you cannot imagine spending another two years in the program. And you\’re at a point where your research is making some sort of sense after all this time.
So you push yourself and push yourself, and then you push some more until one day you have your thesis written and defended, and you\’re like, wow, all that stress and hassle for this??
When you think back, you ask yourself if you would do it again. The answer, not surprisingly, is yes… Why? I have no idea. Maybe because you feel like it has somehow made you a better person or because you\’ve learned from it all, I don\’t really know. But what I do know is this, a Ph.D. is a whole experience. However, only some people need to go through it. It\’s okay to walk away from it, and it\’s also okay to stay in it. One approach doesn\’t make you stronger or weaker; it just makes you who you are.
In life, there are battles that you fight, things you must go through, and you must push to come out victorious. But sometimes, you have to ask yourself, at what cost? How much of yourself are you sacrificing to win the prize? How much of your family, relationships, and physical and mental health are you sacrificing, and is it really worth it?
Sometimes it\’s okay to take a break and revisit things later, and other times it\’s okay to stop and leave some things in the past. Sometimes though, you keep at it, and you keep at it until you get what you want. The key is knowing when to do what and how.