Here's the truth... (PhD Chats)

When considering doing a PhD, you must know what you’re getting yourself into. Whilst you’re doing a PhD, keeping a community of individuals who are honest about their experiences, good and/or bad, is imperative. And after you finish your PhD, do well to remember what you’re going to take away from it (aside from a very heavy thesis).


If you fall into any one of these groups, or you’re just generally interested: this blog post is for you. We asked our Twitter followers what the highs and lows of a PhD were to get more to get honest accounts of what this experience is about from black women in the scientific industry.

The replies were so insightful and helpful we thought we’d bring it over to the blog. We’ll also be referring to a thread by Louisa Brotherson, @louisa_geo, a PhD researcher [April 2020].


[NB: Everything is a learning opportunity so instead of calling them highs and lows we’re going to call them highlights and challenges]

HIGHLIGHTS

Character development

No matter what stage of the PhD journey you’re at you’ll be learning; whether it be about your discipline or about yourself. If you’ve heard from anyone who’s done/doing a PhD, there’s no doubt you’ve heard that you’ll come out changed. It’s nice to hear from people experienced that this change is growth.


Confidence

It seems to be a common consensus that a PhD is a life-changing experience; it’s not yet on the life stressors scale - but some would argue it could be. Nonetheless, a nostalgic highlight of a PhD seems to be the life skills you build. The top one being confidence. This confidence is gained by enduring increased responsibilities, tackling the obstacles and confronting failures. This confidence can be used to tackle a great number of challenges in the future and becomes very advantageous post-PhD.


Something New

Conferences abroad, intellectual conversations, learning new techniques/methods and uncovering novel conclusions. Conferences are often held at various destinations annually and if you’re lucky enough to have funding/grants, you could be visiting a number of counties during your PhD. You meet a lot of people from many different disciplines which leads to a lot of different conversations; conversations that wouldn’t be possible without putting yourself in that new environment.


A PhD most definitely promises you something new.


CHALLENGES

'Failures'

It’s inevitable. ‘Failure’ (or as we prefer to call it: things not going ideally) is to be expected in any new venture. Leslie, @Hearts4Carolina, said that “the biggest challenge was accepting and moving beyond failures”. Academia as we know it is a result-driven industry rightly referred to as a publish-or-perish environment by Brotherson [@louisa_geo via @MinoritySTEM].

The intense nature of this result-driven environment can make one feel like a ‘failure’ when things don’t go as planned. This can drive people away from the world of academia.


Are there things we can do to make the world of academia less intense? If so, what? Comment below.


Stress

If you’ve heard about a PhD, you’ve heard about stress. It almost seems like the two go hand-in-hand. The people who responded didn’t have anything different to say. PhDs are not yet on the Top 10 Highest Stressors list, but it probably should be. If you had to place it on there, where on the list would you put it?

Loneliness

One of the reasons why pursuing a PhD is such an enormous achievement, is because each PhD is different. No one quite understands your research the way that you do. Your project is your own to run and ultimately, the direction it goes in is up to you. This is great and is a common incentive to embark on the PhD journey, however, it can get lonely.


It’s not just the fact that you are on a fast-track to becoming an expert in your field (which is quite often a ‘solitary’ road), sometimes it’s the fact that you feel physically alone; it is often the case that people are forced to move to cities very different from their homes to fulfil their PhD dreams.


Although loneliness is expected, it doesn't make it right. There are many initiatives to combat this, where it be support networks, talks and mental health services.



"Do you have any ideas on how to

combat the loneliness felt during a PhD?"



These are just a few of the highlights and challenges we’ve gathered from black women who have/are doing PhDs in STEM disciplines. Every experience is different and unique to the individual and the PhD, so there is a much wider narrative to be had.


If you want to know more about PhDs, the application process, how to decide whether doing a PhD is for you or anything else PhD-related, feel free to comment your questions below. We can turn this into a blog series or answer your questions over on our social media.


Want to contribute to the conversation? Message us, we’d love to hear from you.


#PhD #PhDChats

By Tomi Akingbade, Founder


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