The beginning of the PhD journey: The PhD Application

A successful PhD application is the beginning of the PhD journey and a work well begun is always half done. Here are some tips with which you can boost up your chances of getting your PhD application accepted:

  1. Have your research about the course, university, subject and other related factors before applying. You must have a criteria over which you evaluate universities, programmes and supervisors so that you are in a position to choose the one that suits your needs in the best way.
  2. If you have a prospective supervisor in mind, brilliant! Make informal contact with him, preferably in person so that you are able to seek his feedback over your proposal, at least briefly before you submit it with the application.
  3. The application process varies and is different from university to university. Make sure that you have read it thoroughly so that you have all necessary documents in place before submitting to the university
  4. Filling of the application form is a meticulous task so it must be done very carefully. Make sure you read it thoroughly and someone else proofreads it for you too. Carelessness can lead to typographical, spelling or grammatical errors that can actually create a bad impression on the screener or anybody else who reviews the application form
  5. Wherever in the form, you find the scope and the opportunity, emphasise on your qualities that would actually help you to shine out as a successful and independent researcher. In this attempt, be honest and do not exaggerate else it may completely bring down the good impression that you were trying to create.
  6. If there is a need to select references, make sure you select them carefully as after all this report could actually make all the difference. The referees you include should be chosen carefully and should be aware about your plan so that upon cross checking they aren’t taken by surprise. Also ensure they have a copy of your CV so they know your skill and strength area well, in case enquired.
  7. Most of the time in your PhD application, the critically important thing that should be devoted maximum time is the research proposal. Treat it as important as the PhD itself with all formatting and content in place.
  8. Do not forget to proofread your document thoroughly, yourself as well as from someone so that even the smallest of errors can get done with.
  9. Adhere to the deadline!!

What are the feelings of the PhD scholars?

Till the stage of your post graduate education, you get a lot of structuring done for you. The syllabi, modules, time schedules, specified books, practical sessions, experiments and so on re given to you on the platter. Only the execution part is expected from you.   Nobody tests your learnings and knowledge outside the peripheries of the established syllabi so you very conveniently know what you got to study and how much. The moment you step into the PhD programme, you got to take the responsibility for your own task, unlike all your prior academic experiences. You would surely have people to help you and guide  you, officially and unofficially but end of the day what is to be done and in what capacity is your own responsibility and all the mistakes that you make, knowingly or unknowingly, specified  or unspecified are all yours to take blame for.

 A PhD scholar sometimes feels lost as he isn’t traversing a path that has been taken up by others earlier on.  Expectation such as having to initiate discussions, constructive arguments or learning initiatives can sometimes make  you feel overwhelmed as not every scholar feels accomplished enough to  know what is to be done when and may feel lost or confused with expectations and opportunities flooding from all directions.

When research students enter the system as scholars. They feel motivate enough to do a research that is noticeable for outstanding contribution in their field of study.  However, for most of them, by the time they reach the completion of the course, all that they care for is to get the degree. In all the interim years, the enthusiasm gets dampened by lots of demands and expectations for conducting repetitive tasks on everyday basis. More so when the surrounding environment is such where everyone just cares about their own work and have nothing to do with others. Sometime scholars feel their own image getting lost under the pressure of immense demands. However, they must learn to come out of the pressure carve themselves out as competent professionals who are confident of their own knowledge and at the same time know that boundaries that have been set for them. The journey of a PhD scholar is a transition or growth of a dependent student into an independent, confident and achiever who knows precisely what is expected of him in that given environment.

Escalate your PhD progress rate

How is it possible to have the same rate of progress in your PhD, throughout your tenure? It is bound to vary. Some days/weeks/months would be those months in which you would be able to see the progress that would make you feel elated and proud and then suddenly there would be that sluggish span when you feel that things aren’t doing that good for you. The work that should have finished in weeks would be taking months to wind up. It is indeed frustrating to feel stuck with no progress as it leads to a feeling that is a challenge to cope up with.  So, what is the way to hang in there or better ensure that you are able to maintain your rate of progress at your desired level?

 It is actually possible to get a lot of work done by ensuring that you have regular short terms targets. Suiting to your convenience, they could be daily, weekly or monthly.  But just mentally setting targets may not be enough. Make sure that when you set targets for yourself you have jotted them down somewhere and if possible also informed someone close to you about it. When you know that  you have another person who is in loop of what is your rate of progress like, there is  a brighter chance  that you would not give up on it and ensure that you don’t just live up to  your own expectations but also the ones you have set for you in other’s eyes.

 It is normal to feel the writer’s block in between, it is normal and natural for all writers to face that challenge. One major cause of this can be when you have set high standards for yourself. Remember that higher or unrealistic targets are a major cause of writers block or a feeling of a paralysed researcher. Try to go down to a more narrow and broken down challenge and you would see things getting untangled and solutions erupting for problems from even the simplest of efforts.

Still, if ever you have a problem that leaves you with no solution at all and you feel that you are in cobweb that is difficult to break. Go slow but steady, try to go as simple as only working one hour in a day, gradually you would see that your brain sorts out things by itself and you are getting back into the flow. Remember that if you could have that pace of work once, you can have it again too. All that is required is to be just equally clear about your goal not just one day but all days!!

The psychological forces causing Anxiety for PhD scholars

Stress and Anxiety caused by PhD has deeper and more underlying causes that the scholars must be aware of and not ignore. If simple efforts to organise and prioritize thing does not simplify your life and makes you feel still out of control then you need to go more in deep and identify and find out the fears you have.

Most of the PhD scholars have the fear of failure. Know that fear is one of the greatest cause of anxiety and stress and can be profoundly limiting. Some of the fears are not direct and explicitly visible but they have a deeper placing in your mind. Some of the fears and unknown and unfounded. You must be aware of your hidden and unfounded feelings

If you are one of those persons who finds it very difficult to detach from things and situations then you must learn and practice to let go in life. From small to big things, whatever may happen, you must let go. Failing in PhD is surely tough but remember it isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. There are things all the more bad that could happen. Keeping that in mind, learn to let go and once you have learnt it, you must practice it. This can only happen when you completely trust your ability to cope up with whatever happens. If you  are feeling saturated with the pressure of your PhD and want to quit it all together, figure out if you could give it one more shot at least with meticulous understanding and planning of things that went wrong previously. Most of the time, when you look into things meticulously, they do start to work out.

 Most importantly, anxiety frustration and stress are inevitable in your PhD but do not take them as a normal part of your degree. You must learn to address your fears and acknowledge the stress so that once you accept the problem then only are you able to cope up with it. Accepting is the first thing to do so that you can achieve what you are truly and most importantly capable of doing and then take the appropriate action that must be taken.

You aren’t the only one who is facing this. Find respite in the fact that all the scholars go through high and uncontrollable bouts of fear and anxiety some or the other times. Only the ones who know how to conquer it, sail through. Become one of those!

The Emotional turmoil of a PhD scholar

Research is not easy and not uncommon to see scholars burning out on it.  Statistics have revealed that only a small percentage of scholars who begin PhD work are able to complete it and most of the drop outs, astonishingly are voluntary. The reasons for dropping out can be various, ranging from better prospects elsewhere, more money in another field, a good job offer, marriage or some more but a lot of scholars also do leave their PhD out of sheer frustration with the challenges associated with doing a research.  Wouldn’t it be better is someone warned you in advance about how emotionally draining can a PhD journey be so that you can arm and equip yourself with the demands of the journey and also know that all the ups and downs are the necessary and generalised part of the journey and you aren’t the only one facing it’s brunt.

  At the foremost, you must know that risk is a part of research and a research that doesn’t have in it an element of risk isn’t really a research but a research failing isn’t really a personal failure. It is a failure of the research and rather it is your accomplishment to have taken up a project that has such great amount of risk associated with it.

If you feel little in front of people who often show success in research and bring out publications one after the other, know  that n they have had their own set of  struggle and failures and we get to only see the best in the upfront. It is quite likely that their successful projects have risen up after repeated failures.

Throughout your career your accumulated failures are a proof of your hard word and repeated attempts. Many a successful scholars would tell you that from a piled up stack of repeated failures would you find the cues for success, maybe few years down the line. So don’t get disheartened by initial setbacks and failures, rather they are a stepping stone to success. Research often takes more than it ought to so if your task takes longer, don’t worry, that is nothing but a thumb rule of research.

It is crucial for research as well as for you to set for you set short term goals for yourself and make research an everyday part of your life so that small little achievements can lead to greater accomplishments. Get into a pact with a friend so that they can motivate you and you could keep a tab on each other’s accomplishments.

When and if you get stuck somewhere, don’t give up. It is all part of the job.

Is blogging helpful for PhD students?

No PhD scholar wants to make his life harder by writing more than his thesis or other essential assignments. So who would agree that PhD scholars should be blogging as well? There are indeed a lot of plus sides of blogging and here are a few to discuss that could incline you towards blogging if you are a blogger:

  1. A platform for communicating ideas: You are building a huge piece of research by taking up doctoral studies. Feel proud that you will be making a contribution in the existing human knowledge and it is important to tell people the reason your contribution is significant. If you have adequately communicated your invented ideas and contribution there are easier and brighter chances of your research getting more favourable acceptance in the academic and non-academic community.
  2. Building networking: If you are into blogging about your area on research, it can help you to find people around the world who may be interested in your work. It can also become a source of advice, future collaborations and even long term networking from enthusiastic supporters around the world through just a medium of regular expression of ideas.
  3. Enhance your writing skills: Regular expression of thoughts is a good way to learn to write better and if you are more tech savvy you may also end up developing skills such as presentation skills or video blogging, if you chose to do video blogging.
  1. Enrich your professional profile: A researcher who also writes regularly and is good in expression of ideas and concepts gets to add another feather in his cap and enrich his profession profile which goes beyond just being a researcher.
  1. Improve prospects of getting placed: Academic positions are sought over around the world as hot cakes. The applicants are many and the seats are few. You have to do all that is possible to market yourself so that you can get the position you are looking for. If you have a presence online it surely is a depiction of your additional skill and improves your chances of getting a job. A blogger leaves an impression of someone being enthusiastic, passionate and interesting other than talented and multi-tasking.
  1. Come into the notice of publishers: If you intend to continue writing books after your PhD or even convert your thesis into a book then you have bright chances of getting noticed by worthy publishers through an impressive online profile it surely is going to benefit you in the long run.

Become Your Emotion Manager for Success in Your PhD

Emotions are critical when it comes to success, may it be anywhere in your life. For scholars who are enrolled in PhD, it is a long and daunting journey and there is a lot of different kinds and levels of emotions that you would face during the journey. What means and methods you adopt to deal with these emotions is as important as you deal with the academic side of the journey. Stress is imperative and you would have eustress and distress, you have to know how to convert eustress to distress and here are some tricks for PhD students to know how to use their emotions in a constructive way, rather than let them overpower them:

Learn to stay happy: Yes, as we grow up, we forget that staying happy is out inherent trait and we need to learn to work around ways to stay happy. Do acknowledge good times, small or big. This would help you to realise that life does keep giving reasons to stay happy and it is up to us to ignore them or accept them.

Stay balanced between being rational and emotional: Do not dwell over mistakes you have made. Try to have a rational perspective and do the right time rather than actually sulking over it. Apologise when you feel you have made a blunder. Whether it is with your supervisor, peer or anyone else in the university and take corrective measures as and where necessary. This is a better perspective than actually sulking over a problem.

Acknowledge your stress or depression: it is easier to close your eyes to depression or an emotional outburst. Accepting a low phase is the first and the biggest step towards getting over it. The PhD journey is cyclic like many others and there are low and high phases. Not all times are bad times. Know that reassure yourself that any downfall isn’t the end of the world.

Have a life outside your PhD: yes it is ok to have friends, family, kids, home, cooking, hobbies and other things as important in your life other than your PhD. Having diverse interests gives variety of food to the body and the mind. It really helps you to stay sane in the never ending challenges that you PhD would throw at you and you would have other things to talk about other than your PhD, to yourself as well as to others.

Stay as honest as possible: this is perhaps the most important to key to emotional balance. Difficult but stay honest to not just others but yourself too, as much as possible

Try these tips and be honest, be decent, try to keep your perspective, and acknowledge the highs, lows, blahs and whoo-hoos and see yourself soaring with success!!

The Structure for the Methodology Chapter

  1. Problem: The methodology chapter follows the literature review. To bring up more clarity and bring back the focus it is always better to recap the main problem that you are dealing with in your research. It is important to succinctly define the problem that you are primarily addressing in the research.

  2. Approach: The approach that you are following for the purpose of primary research needs to be overviewed in the next stage of the structure. The different aspects that need to be catered to here are the rationale, justification, sampling etc. It should not have any kind of ambiguity so that when the reader reads he is ensured that the writer is completely synced with the nuances of the methodology.

  3. Antecedence: it is a good idea to compare the methodology adopted by you with other researches that are similar in your area. Finding similar studies and reviewing them does lend a lot of authority to your research and makes the methodology more concrete.

  4. Validation: It is necessary to give believable reasons for the chosen methodology in your research which is also termed as justification. It is all the more necessary when you have adopted a new or unique type of methodology. A thorough and rigorous justification does add a lot of weight to the research.

  5. Reliability and validity: In all kinds of research, irrespective of the genre, issues that are linked to reliability and validity have to be discussed explicitly. Reliability and validity takes care of accuracy, precision, and error scope in the research.

  6. Sampling: Sampling is important enough to be dealt as a separate sub topic and needs to be given that special attention that it deserves. Sample size has a strong influence on statistical significance and the researcher has to be very cautious and alter when mentioning this in the methodology.

  7. Appendix: There is a lot of material to be added to the methodology chapter that has indirect relevance and has to be added to the end of the dissertation writing in the appendices section. Generally questionnaires and related content can be placed here for reference.

  8. Generalisation of data: each data set has certain scope of generalisation and it should be included in the chapter in terms of the scope of generalisation of data. The more your data has generalised applicability, the wider its use and importance of your research.

Are You One of Those Stressed Scholars?

There is a lot to be done and you can’t possibly imagine how to accomplish everything that is needed to be achieved and you become stressed and overwhelmed with the pressure. To begin with make a list. A detailed list of everything that needs to   be done , whether it is related to your PhD or no, it could be your assignments, reading, writing thesis, attending seminars,  doing grocery , laundry or maybe even a party. Listing out things is the first and most important step towards distressing. Only when you have the list of tasks to be accomplished, can you move towards scheduling them. Preferably make a weekly schedule for yourself. It will help you to be more organised and keep a tab on everything that needs to be done, how much is done and other things. There is indeed time to accommodate everything that needs to be accomplished. Keep achieving your goals and keep striking them off from the list.  It is feeling of accomplishment to see what all you have achieved and pat yourself on your back to know how much multi-tasking you are capable of and do everything with complete satisfaction and involvement.

Staying dissatisfied and unhappy becomes a vicious circle. Mostly scholars stay unhappy because of falling grades and then it further drains down their energies and becomes a hindrance in their academic effectiveness. This is not an unusual occurrence. One should not let emotional and social issues get into the way of your life. Unhappiness and stress is not something to live with and there are mature ways to deal with it, from getting a self book to even consulting a counsellor, one should opt for suitable remedies and solutions. Your emotional health and academic success have to go hand in hand so it is good to fight back and regain control of life. Keep a handle on both.

Dealing with anxiety is another major concern and it also does become a culprit in the way of effective performance of students. Feeling of inadequacy or belittling yourself often comes with comparison with peers. You should gain temporary control over your life by practicing relaxation techniques in anxious times. You should try becoming your best friend so that you can praise and acknowledge your own accomplishments.

One key thing to remember for reducing stress and anxiety that is easily manageable is not to procrastinate, take a lot of rest and do a lot of physical exercise.

Your Preparation for Your PhD VIVA

Oral examinations are more threatening than the written ones and we don’t have an exception here when we talk of the PhD VIVA. I don’t see too many reasons to be really petrified of the PhD VIVA. It is of course natural to feel some anxiety and I think that is symptom which in a good context, indicates that you care about your performance. However, the anxiety has to be eustress and not distress. The best way that you done feel negatively anxious about your PhD VIVA is to very clearly know its purpose and to be also well prepared for the same. The main objective of a VIVA is to give you an opportunity to defend your research, your thesis. It really isn’t a standalone examination and surely only your VIVA cannot decide whether you would pass or fail in your PhD.

Remember if your thesis has good standards and has innovative and worthy research, it may be already decided to pass your thesis, even before the VIVA. So your preparation for this oral examination starts from the first day when you start your research as submitting a well written thesis is the first thing to be done. Have confidence in the arguments that you have presented as that would go a long way in preparing you well for the VIVA. Keep in mind these few things for best results in your VIVA:

  • Be very thorough with the argument you have presented and how it is contributing in the existing body of research.

  • When you do your preparation and rehearsal, look at it from a third person perspective to get a holistic picture. Seeing it as someone else’s research also helps you to understand how would the examiner look at it.

  • Identify the strengths of your research and know the weaknesses. Keep awareness about the practical weaknesses in your research and what kind of scope it leaves or creates for future research is also important.

  • If your supervisor agrees, try to do a mock VIVA, rehearsals always instill more confidence

  • Do make an attempt to explain your thesis to a person who has the knowledge and interest in your subject but is a not a researcher. You would understand the perspective of a layman which is imperative for a researcher to know of defences in the VIVA

  • Try to be spontaneous and natural rather than mugged up, remember it is your work and nobody understands it better than you do so there isn’t a need to be artificial in the VIVA. Refer the thesis if you so need to in the VIVA.

If you have some tips for better performance in VIVA, do share with us.