Upon acceptance of my doctoral thesis, I received a survey from my university, asking two questions that made me sit back and think.
The first question was, “What were the best aspects of your program?”
If you’d asked me this mid-last year, I would have said, “Hair loss. But seriously, engaging in a Ph.D. forces you to examine your worldviews, your assumptions, and the assumptions of the culture in which you live. By culture, I don’t mean Australian culture:, but your professional and work culture. You can’t do a Ph.D. without confronting the fact that much of what you know is little more than convenient agreement among peers.
During my study, my perception on the topic on hand (how to solve the issue of keeping technology projects aligned to intended policy outcomes) shifted from a very blinkered engineer’s view of the problem to a linguistics view – something I would have never expected. While I pride myself on my analytical capabilities and my skills as a technology engineer, these same strengths became roadblocks. Out of necessity, I had to engage in topics well outside of the regular technologic domain.
If you are considering a PhD, appreciate that the ideas you have at the start of your Ph.D., including the very nature of the thesis itself, will not be those that you finish up with. Your world will be turned upside down. Not everyone will be happy with that – yourself included!
The second question was “What aspects of your program were most in need of improvement?”
I found conducting my research – in particular writing the thesis – forced me to confront personal issues relating to “self-worth”. I frequently found myself sabotaging my attempts to write. I felt like a fraud. I constantly rewrote and rewrote, and rewrote passages to “get them just right.”
In the fifth year, I knew I was in trouble. I’d spent the previous nine months actively avoiding any work on the thesis because it was making me anxious. From discussions with other postgraduates, I’ve discovered that this is a common problem.
In the end, I sought counselling through an education group that specialises in goal achievement and performance, and I got myself two mentors.
Roughly a third of Ph.D.’s are never finished. But of those that are, only about 3-5% fail. The lesson for others considering a Ph.D. is this: it’s not so much intelligence that is needed, or brilliant insight, but rather self-knowledge and persistence.
Be prepared to go to work on yourself at least as much as your thesis.
In short, if you are thinking of engaging in higher education, GO FOR IT! It’s not about the title. It’s not about world-shattering discoveries. It’s about growth. And like everything else in horticulture, that is a good enough reason to is consider investing the time to do a Ph.D.
So… go and be amazing!
DOCTOR Green Geek