September 11, 2018, by Jackie Thompson
My PhD Journey – The Highs and the Lows
By Maria Lozano, PhD Education
Maria has recently completed her PhD at Nottingham and she reflects on her journey – the highs and the lows – and offers advice to potential PhD students.
Enchanted by research
As a masters student I enjoyed spending time in the library, researching different topics and being a learner. It was in this context, I applied to a scholarship for my PhD. My research proposal was interesting enough to get the scholarship but it was too vague for the first year of my PhD. I was enchanted by different research projects and research themes, journals and papers. It was hard for me to actually decide on one single focus. Now I see that I may have been a little naïve, thinking that reading other papers would be enough to hone my ideas.
As my professors advised, you must feel passion about your topic and be clear about the purpose of your research. Passionate because you will enmeshed in your topic for several years; and clear about the aim of your research because your time is not limitless.
A year in…
It was after about a year that I understood how important it was to have timely definitions for the research project, to narrow down the theme and the research questions, define the participants and the research method. Coming from a country where students rarely learn to be critical, it was difficult for me to understand what it meant to be a researcher.
The most important learning experience for me was understanding that the process to create knowledge is based on constant interactions with other authors’ knowledge and theories and criticism of your work. You will be constantly comparing and contrasting your ideas with that of others, providing concrete evidence and exchanging points of view, concepts and beliefs. Perhaps this is one of the hardest parts of the process, because it means watching your ego —in my forties, I thought I was clever and experienced—far from it!
Of course, at times I felt like an impostor. I was tired and sad wanting to return to my country. However, it was important to do different things away from your research. My yoga lessons were a source of peace and wellbeing. This activity helped to oxygenate my brain (and it still does). On one occasion, I was particularly sad and hopeless, cycling to the train station. Oh! the train was already there; hopeless I thought ‘I’ve just missed the train’. Suddenly a train inspector waved to me and opened the door. This was a source of great relief and happiness, almost as if a divine message had been granted.
What I’ve learned
After a while, my uncertainty and pain waned as I learned to make the most of every supervision meeting. My supervisors helped me improve my work and my skills as a professional researcher. I valued my supervisors’ time and the conversations I had with them, exchanging visions and accepting constructive criticism. The whole experience was wonderful, I’ve learned from different cultures and countries and I’ve questioned my paradigms. I’ve learned how to be resilient and perservere, be tolerant and humble, to forgive myself, and that hard work is rewarding. Overall, I’ve grown as human being.
Often during my PhD journey I wanted to give up but every time I realised how much I’ve learned. This was crucial to move further, to overcome obstacles and work even harder. Luckily, my inner angel was there, to remind me why my research topic was important and how it will contribute to a better world.
My advice to you
- Be very specific in your research topic
- Follow your vocation and passions
- Learn from every single situation