Researcher Life: An Ode to PhDs

Everyone was happy to strike 2020 off the calendar, but not me. I finished my PhD in 2020, with all the publications I had strived for. And you may imagine finishing a PhD is like a clear achievement. One day you don’t have a title, and the next morning, you wake up a doctor. Wake up full of hopes and dreams and plans for how you will take over the world, right? Wrong! You wake up exhausted and hopefully with a slight hangover. In April 2020, I still needed 3 publications and the draft of my thesis was non-existent. In August 2020, I had everything at a level where my panel approved my PhD submission. In November 2020, I defended. All this alongside working as a psychologist in the midst of a global pandemic.

The weeks since my defence, and particularly with the onset of what the world hopes is a better 2021, I found myself reflecting and making sense of the past and the present, rather than jump into the future. So my first blog of 2021, seven weeks after I can officially call myself Dr. Divya Seernani, is an ode to everyone still writing and trying to finish a PhD this year.

A PhD takes as long as it takes, and its ok.

The world expects you to meet milestones at a specific age, in a specific time period. They expect this even though they know that life gets in the way more often than you’d realize. You may have to re-do experiments and analysis, you may have to re-write drafts, you may have disagreements with your supervisors and your co-authors, you may even have to change supervisors, you may have to spend months looking for funding to support yourself and your work, you may have health issues that need attending to, you may have to support family and friends, you may need to provide care, you may get married, you may get pregnant, you may invest in a side project, you may invest in that student who is struggling in your class, you may have to plan new teaching material, you may have to give time to your teaching workload, you may simply be exhausted or in the middle of a pandemic.

The world knows that it is unrealistic to make a 3-6 year plan that is entirely dependent on one person’s ability to manage everything and more, and yet, it expects it of us. What’s more, we deliver. You know you do. You know you’ve met more deadlines than you’ve missed. You know you’ve looked at revisions, broken down, vented, cried, screamed, and woken up and drafted a polite and scientifically sane rebuttal letter the next day. You’ve probably developed psychosomatic problems along the way – unexplained headaches, jaw clenching, maybe even the occasional panic attacks?

How do I know all this? Because each and every PhD I know, including me, has had multiple of these hassles and has come out on the other side. So now dear PhD, here is what you need to hear at the start of 2021 –

Life happens! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Delays are inevitable. They do not speak to your competencies. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you need to learn and grow and improve, that’s ok. It’s what you’re in grad school for – to be the scientist you want to be. This is your journey. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Take care of yourself. When all is said and done and you’ve reached your goals, you’ll need it again. No one gets used to abusing themselves for years, not even if you term it ‘culture’. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

With that, dear ECRs, go forth and let this be your year!

4 Comments

    1. I loved each word you wrote. And I felt it. What you are writing is what we go through in life even if we are not doing PhD

      All the best Dr. Divya

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