PhD User Manual

The internet is filled with questions like “What to do a PhD in?”, “Where to do a PhD from?”, “Is it okay to do a PhD in a field different from my background?”, “What to know before starting a PhD? Asking for a friend.” And many more.

Through my personal experiences and observations, here is a list to help answer some of your “What, Where or How” about doing a doctorate.
(Warning: Though this applies to mostly all fields and places, it tends to be biased towards Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields that are not located in the west part of the Mercator map).


Cliché, I know. But the most important thing about doing a PhD is being interested in the topic. Don’t limit yourself to a narrow field but don’t also just look for everything. Try doing an internship or read articles about scientific questions and see if it interests you enough to want to spend years trying to find an answer to them. And don’t be afraid to explore stuff you aren’t very familiar with.


Not many people know, but the song “I hate you, I love you… Nobody else above you” by Gnash was written for supervisors (Source: self). Topic and supervisors go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Helpful and motivating supervisors make your PhD journey smoother. Try to know their expertise and work experience from other students and people they have collaborated with. For legal purposes, I would suggest online stalking ONLY.


Let’s be real – Money is important. PhDs have dual identity. We brag that we “work” till we have to pay. We then immediately shift to being “students” (you know, for the discounts!). So, choosing a place where you can live comfortably is priority. But don’t compromise on the first two points. Also, for some offers, you get a funded position and for others, you need to write a grant. The first option is always easier and fortunately, more available for STEM.


Every researcher’s love. This will entirely depend on the lab you are working in. Some require papers before and/or during your course, while others require none. But, in any case, don’t let it bring you down. You have a plan and everything in place, but then, wohooo, no results good enough to publish. And when you do submit, it takes ages to actually get published. Though it’s important, try not to get worked up about it. This is a worry you and your supervisor collectively tackle.


For you people who are starting their PhDs from a place where you know the language, congratulations, you have successfully skipped this YouTube ad. But if you are starting your PhD in a place where you don’t know the language, it could be a little difficult to adjust initially. Though it will give you an opportunity to learn a new language, but more often than not, it can be annoying. Feel free to curse in your language then.


For all the coders out there, learn to accept messages like “Segmentation fault (core dumped)” as part of coding life. Learn to control the urge to smash the screen when this message appears. Accept it. Embrace it. And then debug the hell out of that missing bracket in the nested loop. It will teach you patience and will make you a better coder. Both plus points for PhD and life!


Last but not the least, try to achieve the work-life balance everybody strives for. Singing while driving is not a distraction, it calms you down. Pursue that hobby you always wanted to but didn’t find the time or encouragement to. This is the best time to make mistakes without pondering on anybody’s judgement. You’ll be spending years on a focused topic, try to ease the tension and relax when you want to. You deserve it. You reached here on your own, and you’ll only fly ahead higher.


Well, it is unknown, irrespective of whether you do a PhD or not. You probably heard that academia is hard and competitive. Yes, it is. You continue if you like it and don’t, if you are done. It is okay either ways. The skills you learnt during your PhD will come handy in jobs outside of academia as well. And that hobby you started during your course will most likely be a part of your life inside and outside of your career.

So, don’t worry, apply, and take that PhD offer. You won’t regret it!

Images: (1) Using canva. (2) Facebook Hacker Girl.

Shivangi Sharan is a second year PhD student at the Laboratory of Planetology and Geodynamics in France. Her research focusses on the study of the magnetic field of Mars and to infer its internal structure from it. She is an active member of the IAGA Blog Team and can be contacted via e-mail here.


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