Never let it be said that the postdoctoral community is an unhelpful one.
When we asked our Twitter followers to offer advice to would-be PhD students, using the hashtag #PhDtruths, the response was overwhelming. Around 1,500 took up the challenge in the first four days, offering their tips, tales, wisdom and wit on the subject of obtaining a doctorate.
Some were pessimistic – particularly those in Ireland. Postdoctoral fellow at University College Dublin’s School of History and Archives, Carole Holohan, warned those new to the PhD process to “prepare for some dark nights of the soul”.
Her colleague, Emily Mark Fitzgerald, a lecturer in UCD’s School of Art History and Cultural Policy, struck a similar tone. “PhD is a huge sacrifice of time, energy, money. Do serious, honest and informed soul-searching before undertaking,” she tweeted.
Will Brooker, reader in the School of Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University in London, outlined the transformational journey that PhD study represents. “You will hate your topic or love it in a dangerous way,” he said. “You will become a hermit, go insane for a while, or you will not complete.” He added, however, that it was “very probably the last time in your career you will have so much time devoted to a single research topic. Enjoy it.”
We started the hashtag both to build a bank of PhD advice, and to highlight a recent cover feature written by Tara Brabazon, head of school and professor of education at Charles Sturt University, Australia, in which she outlines the 10 truths your PhD supervisor will never tell you.
In addition to tweeting his reaction to the article, Raul Pacheco-Vega used his eponymous blog to give his thoughts. In it, he says Professor Brabazon has picked out “a few gems”, including the advice that warns against being supervised by academic superstars, or “SuperProfessors”, as he terms it.
However, he feels the article should have reminded PhD students that both they and their supervisors “are humans, and [should] take a more human approach to supervising/achieving a PhD”.
“I had a great PhD supervisor, a fantastic doctoral committee and my experience was positive, and I would hope my own students’ experience to be the same,” he says.
Back on Twitter, the PhD community is still adding to the #PhDtruths advice, making the hashtag a useful resource for early career researchers.
“Schedule actual breaks: during the day, at weekends and a real non-conference holiday if poss. It is not indulgent, rest is vital,” said Caroline Magennis, teaching fellow at Harlaxton College, the Lincolnshire-based British campus of the University of Evansville in Indiana.
Andrew Tatusko, assistant director for faculty development at Pennsylvania State University, concluded: “Remember that you are a PhD student – a privilege most in the world will never have. You have no real right to complain about it!”
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