August 7, 2019, by International students
On July 19, 2019, the future I had always dreamed of came to fruition. When the going got tough, it was the anticipation of this day that got me on track. Getting a PhD is as demanding as it is exciting. The whole graduation experience was both humbling and uplifting. I am grateful to God, family and friends for being there from the beginning to the end. My appreciation also goes to the University of Nottingham for generously funding my PhD through the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship scheme and my two amazing supervisors, Dr Luisa Martinez-Pomares and Professor Miguel Camara.
As I reflect on the journey from application stage to graduation, below are my top 10 tips, particularly for international students, for a successful PhD completion.
1. Be meticulous when selecting a supervisor: We most often spend much time deciding on which programme, university or country neglecting the one or two persons we’ll spend almost 3-5 years with. Contact past/current students of potential supervisors to get a sense of how the journey might go for you.
2. Secure full funding: PhD, especially lab-based research, is a full-time job. It is great to get part-time jobs for some extra cash or working experience. However, to fully work for your upkeep, survival or tuition fees while being registered as a full-time PhD student will drain you physically and emotionally.
3. Establish a routine early on: it is best to let your supervisor(s) know the days/times you’ll be in the lab/office during the early days. This will prevent wrong assumptions and sending wrong signals about your commitment to the research.
4. Establish and maintain communication channels:some supervisors are okay with text/WhatsApp messages while others are strictly emailing. Identify the suitable channel for communication. Don’t disengage. It is a 3-5year relationship, you either enjoy it or endure it.
5. Life is full of twists and turns, be flexible: situations can quickly change e.g. research focus, funding status, supervisors’ position etc. Be ready to unlearn and relearn. Don’t panic when situations change, you’re not in competition with anybody.
6. Cherish relationships: don’t sacrifice friends and relations on the altar of PhD PURSUIT. You need a community of friends, family and cheerleaders to help you stay grounded and compos mentis during this journey. Make new acquaintances and enjoy the moments with them.
7. Your health is your best asset – you need to take care of you: Take holidays, get regular hospital check-ups, have fun.
8. Be eternally optimistic and enthusiastic about your research: it is quite common to lose interest in your work especially when methods/protocols begin to fail and you start getting non-reproducible data and ‘negative’ vibes. Remember point #5. Don’t be shy to discuss your negative data. Keep showing up at group meetings. Go for international conferences to learn other perspectives. It’ll be difficult to smile during these moments but remain optimistic.
9. Engage in extra-PhD activities: join societies, signup for volunteering opportunities, hone your leadership and organisational skills. Use these opportunities to engage and inspire others outside your research circle. The rewards from these are immeasurable.
10. Find your God: when rough days come, you’ll need to find solace in whom/what you believe. PhD journey can be a good period to pursue spirituality. Employ your analytical skills to search deeper into your faith and beliefs.
Philemon Gyasi-Antwi, PhD Immunology | University of Nottingham, UK