My doctorate is coming to an end. In a few months, I will be Dr. Ben and off on another adventure, this time in Miami. There are quite a few emotions that I have gone through in the last few weeks. Sadness, anger, extreme happiness, and also a ton of nostalgia. I will be leaving the one thing that I have known for the past 25 years of my life…school. But it is time that I move on to big and exciting things. I have a job lined up in Miami, so I will be heading off to do that next year. I’m very excited. Today, I wanted to discuss what i would do differently if I could redo my PhD. I have thought a lot about this and want to share with you what I would do if I were to go back for a PhD all over again.
The First 2 years
Let us start off with the first 2 years and what i would do differently. These years are crucial to your doctorate. Many people say that the last few years are the most important, but I strongly believe the first 2 are the most important. These are the years where you decide if getting a PhD is even worth it. You are getting valuable experience and are able to leave and master’s out if you want, at this stage. You also learn a ton about yourself. These years will test you to see if academia is the right fit.
So what would I do differently these years if I could?
First off, I would spend more time enjoying life and trying new things like playing sports or exploring the college. I would join clubs, build friendships, and just have fun. These years, I would treat school like a 9 to 5 job and leave every day at the same time. I wouldn’t go home to do more work, I’d go do things that I enjoy. Because these years are so crucial to your success, if you burn out, you probably won’t last very long.
For work, I would start small in these years. I would try and get into a few projects that maybe other students are doing. This would be good because then you can get an authorship on their papers. It would give a ton of really good experience too. The first 2 years are going to be a bit slower, so take full advantage of that but don’t work yourself to death.
During my Qualifying Exam Year
If I were to redo my PhD, I would focus a ton on changing what I did during this year. I worked myself to death and hit major burn out during my qualifying exam. If you want to read more about it, go check out my post (link HERE). I would definitely redo this part of my doctorate and work a lot less. My proposal turned out to be like 150 pages long when in reality, it was supposed to be like 30 pages max. I went overboard and that really led to a world of hurt when I couldn’t do work for a while afterwards.
During the last years
I am in the final stretch and, yes, there are things that I wish I could do differently during these times. The first, and most important, is talk more with my adviser on what I need to accomplish to finish grad school. Communication is key during these last few semesters and you really need to be on top of things. I was not which has caused some pretty difficult things to happen. I wish I communicated more and was on the same page about everything.
The second thing that i would change would be to relax more. It is tough. I have had many late nights and early mornings in the office and lab. This has led to some really mentally taxing and physically taxing weeks. I developed stomach pains, addiction to caffeine, and my weight began really fluctuating a ton which is not good. I pushed myself harder than I had ever done and I am here to tell you that it is not worth it. Hard work is good to an extent. Once you starting getting negative effects of it, you have gone too far. That is something that I would redo if I could.
Lastly, I would spend more time with my friends. I, honestly, haven’t been a good friend because I have put work above my relationships with others. I gave up kickball, my parttime job, and anything fun in order to finish this degree. It wasn’t worth it. Yes, you have to make some sacrifices, but I gave it all up. Do not be like me and give everything up for one more extra hour of work, or one more experiment. It really isn’t worth it.
Other things that I would redo
Ok, so lets talk about some other things I would do if I were to redo my PhD. I’ll start off with this, go to more conference. I have only been to 1 conference thanks to COVID…I wish I could go to more. Another thing I would do if I were to redo my PhD is apply to scholarships constantly. There’s so much money and funding out there. I wish I took advantage of that. Unfortunately I did not.
I would also take up more hobbies or learn more skills. I think learning coding would be fun or possibly learning how to play an instrument. Instead of focusing all of my time reading boring papers about lead, I might use that time to hone some skills. I don’t know, it sounds like a good idea.
I do not regret getting a PhD. This was one of the craziest, most exciting, challenging, times of my life and was well worth it. The effort I put into it was a bit much, but it all worked out. I will be a doctor soon and that is something that is pretty darn cool. If you are finishing up grad school, let me know what you would do differently if you could redo it again.