#14. When should I start my PhD?

It’s all about timing.

And the thing about timing is that it varies for everyone. In fact if you found someone who told you that you should do your PhD by age X or Y, run…fast. One of the key things I’m learning to do is to pace myself with myself and not with others. It is so hard to see your peers moving on to the next thing, whether it is professionally into that new job or that new position, or on to their masters, or PhD or on to having kids, first one or second, or nth…and not see the same manifest for yourself. It must be human instinct, because it causes  us to look at them and then look at ourselves and think I’m falling behind, I haven’t even gotten married and my peers are on to third and fourth child…when will I catch up. Or my peers have bought a second house and I haven’t even finished up my first degree.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (NKJV).

I know that we often ‘get’ that, but we act like the season is global – its for everybody. So if it is marriage season then everybody must be getting married and if you’re not, then you’re off season. The truth is that there is a season for each and every one of us, and rather than trying to be in synch with other peoples’ seasons, we need to get in synch with our season.

So how do you know when you should start your PhD? What is the best time?

I can’t answer that question for each individual – I could barely answer it for myself. There are some considerations to make when deciding when the best time is to embark on the journey. I would like to share some reflections on what some of those considerations look like.

1. Preparation

One of my favourite analogies for doing the PhD is running a marathon. You can’t just wake up one day and decide you are going to run a 10k marathon when you’ve never worked out a day in your life and have never ran or tried to keep fit. Well you could, but will you finish the marathon…It takes preparation – both mental and physical. The same goes for doing a PhD. You need to take that time and be prepared, psychologically, academically, financially and spiritually. It takes preparation. It takes having a masters in some cases (in the States you can go directly into your PhD from undergrad, but then it takes slightly longer). In some programs you can switch into the PhD from the Masters and continue with the program. All in all it takes preparation. Part of that preparation is getting into the PhD headspace, visualizing yourself doing the PhD. Part of it is the practical, seeking out information on programs, even if you are a few years away from deciding to take it on. Part of it is speaking with people, learning from their experiences.

2. Opportunity

I’ve heard it said before that when preparation meets opportunity, success is borne, an equation that looks something like preparation + opportunity = success. Preparation always precedes opportunity for you to really benefit from it. Opportunity is that divine connection, that meeting with that person who is just the right supervisor, the right mentor the right person to help you take your career to the next level. If you meet them and you are not prepared, it becomes a lost opportunity. You cannot predict when the right opportunity will present itself. That being said, you can position yourself to increase your chances of opportunity. It’s like expecting your prince charming to show up at your doorstep without you ever being proactive. Being proactive doesn’t have to be synonymous with being desperate but staying couched up in the house reduces your chances of interacting with said prince. How do you increase your chances? Network, connect with people in the field you are interested in, speak with people. Share your interests. You’d be surprised at how opportunities present themselves once you put out what you are interested in.

3. Babies

The baby question varies for each and every one of us and it is a very personal decision. For some people they know that they don’t want to have kids. For others, they know that they know that they want to have kids and might even consider not doing a PhD because it might derail this plan. And for others yet, PhD and babies rhyme quite well. In PhD, I find that this consideration bears more heavily for women than it does for men. Blame biology, it is just the way it is.  Although men are affected by a baby decision, women in PhD have to think about timing in a more immediate way than men do because it affects you physically and professionally. Some people choose to have kids first and then go into PhD once they are older, others choose to go into PhD first and have kids after. Others chose to have kids within the program, and some people are not in the stage of their life where babies are a consideration. This here is a whole post, in and of itself, but bottom line is that there is no formula – it’s all about considering the pros and the cons of your circumstance. PhD years can be your most flexible which can be very beneficial for family; that being said you don’t have much income because you are a student.   There are tons of amazing women and men raising families and going to school and working and doing a great job at all of it and I salute them greatly. Either way, it takes a strong support system be it through your partner, your family, your friends or your community to successfully complete a PhD, especially where a child/children are involved.

4. Professional experience

Finally there’s the consideration of professional experience. Increasingly people are going into PhDs not so much to launch an academic career as a Professor, but to keep options open to increase marketability for higher level research-type positions that are not necessarily in academia. If you’re not sure that you want to be a professor, some might say don’t do a PhD, but increasingly PhDs are finding their niche in non-academic roles in government, in NGOs, in the private sector. This is another one of those post-in-and-of-itself topics. The point here is that if this is your goal or one of your goals, then it is important to gain some professional experience along the way before and during your PhD. This is critical so that you don’t graduate as a highly skilled person but with very little tangible experience. Often in the job market, they do take into consideration your academic years as years spent gaining a certain skillset. However you don’t want to risk losing a job to someone with more professional experience even though you are more ‘qualified’ than they are academically.

At the end of the day, no one can really dictate to you when to get into the PhD bandwagon – it is a very personal decision…but it is a very satisfying journey. My mum’s advice was why wait…if you know you are going to do it eventually, every year you don’t start is a year that you could’ve counted under your belt as one step closer to being done.

So I took the plunge and I am glad that I did!

Did I miss any other considerations? Feel free to share your thoughts

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Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “#14. When should I start my PhD?

  1. Always refreshing and very inspirational thanks B

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