What is a PhD, really?

So I feel as though I’ve pretty much been living in the lab for the last 8 days. My daily experimental regime has been so long that I have even been skipping the gym (I’ve only been twice in the last week)!! *gasp*  I’m getting to the point where the PhD is becoming all-consuming.  My life is revolving around it (so why isn’t everyone else’s?!).  It is mutating into this monstrosity of a beast, complete with its own grumpy growling personality.

On Sunday when I was in (slaving away all day), 2 other students in my dept (who are both part time and actually happen to be staff) were also in doing work as all 3 us are hoping to submit in either June or July (so this is starting to become crunch time). The other PhD student made a comment which I myself have made many times before. A PhD has nothing to do with how smart or intelligent you are. In fact, if I was truly smart, I would have been an engineer, or gone into computer programming (writing code), or nearly anything else. A PhD is simply about perseverance. Can you endure? If you simply keep at it, doggedly, then eventually you will finish. A PhD is an endurance challenge.

It’s actually not that different from ultra-marathons. The other week at tramping club, the speaker was talking about the ultra-marathons here in NZ. The most famous is the Kepler Challenge – to run the 60 km Kepler track in a single day. But this speaker was talking about the Northburn which is a 160 km (100 mile) mountain run race. Apparently it is absolutely vicious. But he also said that ultra-marathon distance running was not a young person’s sport. It was mostly composed of ‘old people’. Because more than being physical (which, it obviously is), it is a mental challenge. These long runs take years of training and experience.

I though it sounded a bit like a PhD. You do need a certain amount of maturity and simple determination to finish one because you just keep pressing on.

But here I am, only 2 days of experiments left and then – it’s just writing (well, after what will probably be several weeks of data analysis).  I will have a full 10 weeks to write up my last 2 chapters and put everything together.  I am starting to feel like this PhD is actually going to happen.  After years and years of working on it and thinking about it and stressing about it and obsessing about it – I’m nearly there.

It’s such a huge relief.  If I get it in by June 28 (as planned), I will hopefully have a chance to graduate in December – in which case at least some of my family could possibly come out and see the beauty that is NZ in the summer (it would be such a shame for me to have been here for SO LONG and have only my parents and cousin come for a visit to what is hands down without a doubt one of the most beautiful and amazing countries in the world.  Speaking as an impartial judge, of course).  Graduating in May or August when the weather is much more unpredictable (read: cold, rainy and cloudy) wouldn’t be as nice of a trip for my potential visitors.

But the greatest thing about finishing this will be that I can finally move on with my life.  I feel like I’ve  been stuck in the stagnant vortex that is Dunedin student life for… ever.  Not that it hasn’t been a pretty amazing 6.5 years but I am ready to move on to the next stage.  I need a job.  No, scratch that – not just any job, mind you – I need to move my career forward.  I can’t really actively search for a job until the PhD has been completed (although I’ve certainly been keeping an eye out and applying for a few things here and there – even had a phone interview with my top choice company!  Of course, yesterday was having a chat with my fellow PhD students and realized that I need to talk myself up even more on my CV and in my cover letters.  Modesty and humility are not traits that really come across on a CV).

For now, I just carry on.  But at least I know I will get there in the end!



One thought on “What is a PhD, really?

  1. Congrats on wrapping up the “experiments/lab” portion of your PhD! Hip hip hooray! And yes, although it would be challenging to be gone in December (for many reasons), it would be a nicer time of year to visit Dunedin. Here’s hoping for a June/July wrap up. And I understand your feelings. Moving to a new life stage where you can really delve into your career and progress in your professional life is exciting! And to think about where you’d like to work and live, the type of work you want to do is really motivating. Hang in there as you wrap up everything. And yes, here on this end we’ll be dreaming about a December trip 🙂 XO XO

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