Managing expectations on the lead up to your PhD
So you’re going to be a doctor?
I’m sure, like me, once you had been accepted onto a PhD place that you excitedly told your family, friends and colleagues. Alongside the comforting, proud squeals has likely been a number of questions and loaded expectations. The most common for me being; ‘Oh you are going to be a doctor?!’ and ‘You’re going to be Dr Dev!’
Whilst these sentiments are lovely, it may be difficult for you to hear when you haven’t yet started the course and have read too many statements from people saying how a PhD was the ‘biggest mistake of their life’ and that, actually, not everyone passes with a Doctorate at the end of it all. You have also likely heard that it isn’t for everyone, what if you don’t enjoy it?
It is great to be aware of these things and to have realism on your side. However, my advice in order to deal with these sentiments, which you may not yet quite believe yourself, is to share the enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious and you are going to need to have a bucket load to keep up the momentum throughout three years of a PhD.
Enthusiasm is contagious and you are going to need to have a bucket load to keep up the momentum throughout three years of a PhD.
Mumbling to yourself that not everyone passes, or thinking ‘well, we’ll see, I’ve got a lot to get through yet’ isn’t going to get you anywhere. What will get you somewhere is a positive and passionate approach.
Instead say – ‘Yes! I will’ and explain how it won’t be an easy feat and you will need their support and encouragement throughout but that you will do what it takes to get through it.
What are you going to do with that?
Another common question that I have encountered is – ‘so what will you do after that then?’ I’m sure many prospective PhD students may have a clear 5 year plan and an exact idea of what they will do afterwards.
I am certainly not that person; my 5 year plan ran out after my MSc. I gave up thinking so rigidly after this. I am certainly open to a career in academia but am aware that I have not had experience of working in an academic role as yet. I am hoping that a PhD may help elucidate if this is a route for me. However, many individuals with PhD’s do not stay in academia and find fruitful jobs in industry in a host of different areas.
Remember that this is ok; you will be able to make use of your University’s careers service and the advice of your supervisor to explore your goals for the future while you are there.
‘It is ok to keep your options open’
However, use these questions as motivation – what you would like to do after your PhD should be something that you are thinking about from the outset. It can help to shape the pursuits that you take on whilst you are there. This may include gaining teaching experience and broadening your skills and experience to include on your CV.
You will be a student forever!
Trying to change others’ perceptions of you as a perpetual student however, is just something that you will have to put up with, no matter how much you protest that ‘no, it is different’. Many people may liken PhD study to your time as an undergraduate or postgraduate and not really understand the intensity and pressure that can be involved. You may not yet understand the intensity yet either.
However, maintaining a dialogue about what you are doing with your family and friends will help them to understand and to support you and will be an important way for you to talk through your difficulties and develop your research ideas.