PhD Confidential

It is no accident that I associate the title with one of my favorite films in L.A. Confidential, depicting the secret, dark side of the city. When I chose to be a PhD student in Informatics Engineering at KTU Faculty of Informatics, I did not know much about the PhD. So, almost a year after completing my PhD, I will write about what I once lacked – not only the merits but also the disadvantages of these studies and the various subtleties that would have really influenced my choice.

No matter how strange it sounds, I would equate any PhD with a priesthood – if there is no vocation, (quoting South Park) you’re gonna have a bad time. Of course, anyone can apply for a PhD, but it is important to know why you want to spend the next four years of your life there and to be proactive (in every sense possible). Judging from colleagues who dropped out six months or a year after they started, these two conditions are simply critical.

I’ll try to tell you more – if you have a specific purpose or desire why you want to pursue a PhD, you will avoid the temptation to quit at the outset. In my opinion, the only rational reason for studying should be the desire to work in universities, institutes or other educational institutions in the future. I have heard other motives:

“I’d like to improve my qualifications.” Qualifications (especially those required by business) are much better developed in regular courses, where they get real, much more practical knowledge and skills. Believe me, in 4 years you can visit labaaaai many courses and get a lot of certificates  

“That should help raise my salary.” Believe it or not, but in business doctoral students need a fifth leg as a dog. At least for the moment, most companies value the practical skills of their employees (which are often tricky for doctoral studies) and push the scientific qualification aside (unless that’s one of the rare cases where a company has a research unit).

“It’s really fun to have those two extra letters next to your last name.” Just read about what I lost while choosing a PhD.

Another aspect of thinking about a PhD, as I mentioned, is the overall attitude. Simply put, you just have to make sure that some part of your life is definitely and severely affected. I have never met any doctoral student who has not had to change their lifestyle or give up something. For some it is a well-paid job, for others it is for relationships, for others it may be good health. I am not saying that you will have to give up all at once, as this usually happens gradually as science grows. In my opinion, devotion is absolutely possible without giving up anything only if you have had so much free, unused time in your life up to that point or if your hobbies are closely related to scientific work.

Instead of impressions of the official side of the PhD (various formalities, deadlines, bureaucracy discussion), I decided to share just general impressions, divided into three sections: what I gained, what I lost and what I learned. So …

What did I gain?

Ph.D. In other words, those two magical letters to the last name – “Dr.”   True, life from that upside down, a world star or a super professor did not become that, and after months of joy and celebration, everything returned to its furrows.

Position at University. Although a doctoral degree does not in itself guarantee responsibilities, I have nevertheless achieved my position and have modest lecturer positions, opportunities for improvement and long-term career prospects.

Resistance to insurmountable tasks. While studying for a PhD there were several moments when it seemed that completing the assignment or the dissertation itself seemed to be within reach, and you just needed to make extra effort and spend more time. But that time passes, and the end is not as it is. Then you still think – but not much left … and again the same thing. And after 7 consecutive times you start to look at life in a completely different way.

What did I lose?

Hobbies. No matter how sorry to admit it, my passion for photography, social activities, and other hobbies had to be suppressed, even though my greatest inspiration came when I was most busy. After graduation, considerable efforts are still needed to revive the desire to engage in that activity again.

Health. When time is constantly running out, it is easiest to sacrifice who has the latest consequences. Adding to the fact that I am entering my PhD without the slightest idea of ​​how to plan my research, we will receive a constantly hanging “Sword of Damocles” (a constant sense of danger and guilt over missed tasks). So it’s probably easy to predict that constant stress and restless nights didn’t really add health. Other scholars have also spoken louder about this.

Connecting with people. The aforementioned Damocles sword gave me the impression that I was (or at least must be) constantly busy, so I had to miss some meetings with friends, classmates, relatives. True, after graduation I made a list of people that I need to drink tea as soon as I graduate, so now I plan to make up for lost time  

The ability to read. When you are forced to process unimaginably large volumes of scientific literature in the shortest possible time, you begin to “optimize” your reading. The most accurate way to read my current reading method would be to use the word “scan”: I can understand the essence of my keywords very quickly, but I have to read the text many times to see the details.

What did I find out?

Probably the most rewarding PhD experience is the planning of extremely complex tasks. To sum it up, when you break things down into small tasks (easy-to-chew snacks) and set a fixed amount of time (even if you don’t know exactly how long it takes), the work begins to go very smoothly.

Support is a big help in achieving big goals. I mean not only relatives, friends, but also colleagues at work, acquaintances. They are like candles that accompany you in a dark tunnel until you finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Their help is simply priceless, to the point.

As I mentioned in my previous article, a job supervisor is extremely important. Bearing in mind that what you are doing is not yet in the world, and that those around you (even scientists) only have a rough idea of ​​what you are doing here, the supervisor is an invaluable consultant and facilitator to help you understand your work.

It turns out that when problems arise, it is safe to ask foreigners, not just at conferences or other scientific events. I have received very sincere and informative answers to the research questions from foreign scientists who have helped me a lot in advancing my research.

While research papers are the driving force behind the dissertation, I make sure that there is almost always no time for articles. It looks like you’re done with that, you’re over and you’re about to describe your science. But work is catching up with work, and sacrificing to articles is a sacrifice for precious leisure or other work.

Partly from my own experience and from my colleagues, I realized that there is a mismatch between work and science in doctoral studies. Yes, it is possible (and many do it for economic reasons), but everyone will admit that both suffer. And if you hate, you are likely to suffer health or relationships with loved ones. As I mentioned before, I have not heard of doctoral students who have completed their studies without sacrificing anything.

I could also add that one should not underestimate the start of studies. Although I was communicating with doctoral students much older than myself, some admitted that they did not believe that studying would require so much sacrifice and that their age would be extremely difficult to do. So it was a logical step for me (and I recommend it to others) to start doctoral studies just after graduating.

Want to hire a PhD student? In the third or fourth year, ask him “how are you doing”   You don’t even have to ask how he is doing with your dissertation – he will tell you himself (toothache and clenched fist). Yes, this simple question can take almost all young scientists out of patience.

I don’t know how it is at other universities, but I was impressed by the good doctoral department at KTU. For the Uninitiated, this is the department responsible for your admission to the Ph.D., until your thesis defense, and a little after. I will not deny that the women sitting there were strict, but few in life had to deal with this level of helpfulness when faced with a problem or question.

In conclusion, I have no regrets in choosing a PhD. Although they were full of challenges, I believe that I will be able to pick the fruits of science for a long time to come