Did you know that depending on where you are in the world, the final written product of a PhD is called something different? For example, in the UK a thesis is the final written product of a PhD but in the U.S. a dissertation is the final product. Now, this isn't really a big issue until you take into account that undergraduate and masters degrees can also involve some sort of finished product. Depending on the field, they might be called capstone projects or theses/dissertations. In the U.S., a thesis is the final product of a masters degree and sometimes an undergraduate degree. In the UK, it's a dissertation. So if you ever study internationally, make note of what that final project is actually called because otherwise confusion ensues. Now, on to the bit that pertains to the title of this blog post.
When a person thinks about a PhD the final product, be it called a thesis or a dissertation, seems to be what the degree is all about. After all, it's a published book that you have to defend in front of colleagues who are knowledgeable in the field. You've devoted at least three years to the research involved and you've had to do all of this while under pressure of tuition and living costs (yes, even if you're degree is fully funded those issues exist). The final product is no small thing. But it isn't the only thing.
What is sometimes forgotten when a person embarks on a PhD is what they are going to do after they finish. Are they going into academia? Industry? Both? Do they want to be an independent researcher? Be tied to a specific organization? Travel the world in a burnt-out haze wondering why they completed the degree in the first place? That last one may not be a want, though it's definitely a possibility. Regardless of your plans, they will probably involve having more experience than just completing empirical research and writing about it.
Which brings me back to my title. Your PhD is going to involve a lot more than just reading the literature, completing the research project, and writing the thesis/dissertation. You'll probably be drafted as a student helper for events your university department hosts (this is quite enjoyable but can take time out of your PhD process), attending conferences, teaching courses, going to meetings, going to trainings, etc. Your PhD is a massive undertaking of which the research, write-up, and defense is a relatively small part. Now, that doesn't mean that the physical product of the PhD isn't important. You still need it in order to say you've earned a PhD. But it is also important to realize that you won't be able to spend all your time in the office reading/experimenting/writing. And in fact you don't want to. When you're trying to make progress on the project it can sometimes be frustrating to be "derailed" by other things that don't seem to be your PhD, but those other things are going to allow you to make connections within your chosen field and have a better chance of employment after you receive your degree.
A PhD is not just a thesis/dissertation, it's a lot more. And that's a good thing. So embrace the things that take you away from the final product even while thinking about how they will help inform it. After all, we all need a break from reading literature and writing academically sometimes.
A Second Blog Page?
This is the part of the blog specifically about my PhD. It will include updates, musings, and advice.