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How to Tame your PhD

PhD is a wonderful learning experience, that is, if you do the process the right way. It is true that the end product, the PhD degree, is important but the learning process underlying it is even way more important. I did not know this till I received my PhD and settled back into my ‘normal’ life. The learning skills I developed during my doctoral years came to shape every facet of my current professional life, including the way I blog. When I go back to older posts (i.e., in my second blog educatorstechnology.com), especially those published a decade ago and compare them to how I write now, I see a world of difference.

PhD research

When someone asks me about the rationale behind putting 5 or 6 years of my life into a gruelling academic process whose results are not even guaranteed, my simple answer: it’s the ‘learning bug’. Once you catch it, it never leaves you. You literally become a lifelong student.

But why PhD, why not learn at your own pace, an autodidact of some sort?

As humans, our brains are wired to avoid uncomfortable experiences. Unfortunately, many of the important and transformational skills a PhD program teaches you is impossible to learn elsewhere by yourself. Those are extremely uncomfortable experiences to navigate alone. A PhD forces you to face them head on, you paid your money to do that anyway.

When I defended my doctoral dissertation and in the midst of celebrations with family and friends, my twin sister approached me and asked if I can tell her in few words what PhD taught me. Weird and untimely as it is, I abruptly replied: PhD taught me how to unlearn and learn. A PhD is never about accumulating a large amount of specialized knowledge on a very tiny topic; it is more about developing the metacognitive tools that prime your mind to learn anything it wants. That’s the power of going those extra miles after you got your masters and that’s the biggest reward you will ever get in your life. Once you know how to deconstruct processes and learn new things quickly, you become invincible.

To reiterate, a PhD is only useful when you do the process the right way. So, if you are planning to start a PhD or if you are already doing one (hopefully in your early years in the program), Dr Inger Mewburn has this interesting guide to help you with your doctoral journey. This is a short book titled How to tame your PhD that you can read in one setting but its insights will stay with you forever. The book is packed full of indispensable nuggets of wisdom collected by the authors from years of experience within academia.

How to tame your PhD features 20 essays written by Dr. Mewburn to help PhD students (problem children of academia as she calls them ) manage their theses (also called dissertations in United States) and successfully finish their PhD degree. She draws on many productivity techniques she herself has been using and recommending to her students and provides invaluable pieces of advice on the management of the emotional burden that often accompanies the PHD experience.

How to tame your PhD

Here is a round-up of some the themes Dr Mewburn covered in her book:

  • Why do many people have trouble finishing a PhD?
  • The role of emotions in PhD study
  • Limiting self beliefs ?
  • Finding the right topic ?
  • What is a thesis or dissertation ?
  • The dead hand of the thesis genre ?
  • How to fail your PhD ?
  • How to cook up ideas ?
  • Taming the literature dragon
  • Why you might be stuck
  • Th problem of productivity
  • Your writing tools
  • How t write 1000 words a day ?
  • The Pomodoro Technique ?
  • Writing for your Readers?

Besides her book, Dr Mewburn also runs a blog called The Thesis Whisperer where she shares resources on everything related to academia and scholarly research.

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