What would one expect from themselves as a doctoral student?
My first week as a Ph.D. student involved dealing with this idea.
Before I embarked upon starting this journey, I had some expectations about what being Ph.D. student could be like. These expectations formed a strong set in my mind, which could have possibly clouded my interactions, and especially my sociability during this first week.
I would think that a successful and efficient doctoral student would be one who is knee-deep in research. They have a diligent and a possibly strict lifestyle. Their life is organized: scheduled by time and priorities. And most of all, they work by themselves. I came to have this predisposition that Ph.D. students know themselves more than ever by now, and know their working styles. In order to avoid clashing with another researcher’s work ethics and style, they prefer to work alone, keeping peaceful relations with their peers and avoiding clashes and tension.
Over my summer at Disney Research, I had the chance to get to know other Ph.D. students, and I ended up respecting and looking up to a peer who met these criteria: hard working, harsh upon himself, but nevertheless, persevering. I remember knowing that I do not possess these traits yet. I’ve known myself to take a break from work pretty often to go talk to colleagues, socialize with others, and use this social element to motivate me towards working. I’ve always needed some motivation to do research: it could stem from working in a great environment with exceptional people, or from the implications of my work’s impact. This colleague, however, lived in his research. It was something I wanted to be so badly but knew that I may have a long way to go before getting there. On my last day at my summer internship, I bid him farewell and expressed my respect towards his working ethic. He gave me some parting advice: “Research is not about how hard you work, it’s about how smart you work.”
Aside from the expectations of being hardworking and persevering, I have an expectation of the social life of a Ph.D. student well. I can attribute this directly to a conversation that I had with a professor during my time at Rutgers. I was sitting in Prof. David Cash’s office, where he asked me why I wanted to be a professor. I responded with my perception of what it meant to be a college professor: teaching classes, mentoring students, working with students and collaborating with other professors, and having a social life. To this, Prof. Cash responded (I’m paraphrasing) “Being a professor isn’t a social experience. It gets very lonely, sitting in your office by yourself and working on your research all day.” I remember his expression, and I remember feeling that he truly meant it: a Ph.D. is a lonely experience. I remember walking out of Prof. Cash’s office and looking at the largely empty corridor space, and reflecting that indeed, being a professor can also be lonely. Moreover, this insight, along with the What Does A Ph.D. Feel Like? articles by various blogs, enforced upon me that the journey of a Ph.D. student isn’t similar to that of starting college: you may be with a lot of people but you’re also by yourself.
These expectations ended up making a good template for me to take inspiration from: sincerity, dedication, and a little bit of isolation. Moreover, my experience of my first week in Salt Lake City brought along a few external factors too, which pushed me beyond my normal threshold for these mentioned attributes. I feel a little isolated even in a social dinner gathering, and trying to implement order into my life even when it may be sufficient enough.
This week has been about starting to make an effort. It has not been determined if these efforts are necessary, or whether they will bear fruit. I’m not going to tie a bow and end this blog on a thought, but rather, leave it at what it is: a beginning.