Cautionary advice to new PhD students: prepare to work your socks off!

Over the years I have always questioned why I seemed destined to work hard throughout my life, whatever occupation I happened to be in.  In the end I have always attributed being a hard worker to the fact that I was born on a Saturday, since: “Saturday’s child works hard for a living.”

But with age comes wisdom (usually but not always) and I came to realise that not everyone appeared to have such a rigorous work ethic as my own. However, I have also come to realise in my wiser years that it’s a blessing to undertake tasks and projects that you are so passionate about and committed to that time literally flies without you noticing the considerable hours you are spending at work in the quest for knowledge, truth, understanding, and things of that nature.

And so it is that over the last year I have on average clocked up around 12 hours a day, six days a week (I get a day off for shopping) on my PhD research project or teaching/preparing lectures/seminars/marking and more recently preparing conference papers and presentations. I knew that undertaking a PhD would be intellectually stimulating and challenging and I knew that there would be a learning curve and I knew I would have to read and read and read  some more…write and write and write some more…

But I never imagined that I would have to work so much harder than I usually do since I worked hard enough already (proof that even the wise ones sometimes get it wrong)! Sometimes I am at my desk on my laptop until the wee hours and fall asleep sitting at my desk without realising it. That’s when I have to accept that I am burnt out for the night, and despite resolving to go to bed earlier in future will do exactly the same thing the next day.

It may seem as if I ‘m a glutton for punishment but the truth is that I am a glutton for hard work, dedication and commitment to the task – it goes with the territory really. I remember being told as a child (though not too sure by whom) that nothing worthwhile is ever easy; you have to work for it – and work I have!

The same applies to undertaking a PhD. There’s a reason why it’s the highest level qualification and that’s because you cannot rise to a higher level of learning without stretching your mind, your brain, your mental agility and physical stamina beyond the usual boundaries – way beyond.

And at each step of the process your academic work is assessed and monitored to ensure it makes the intellectual grade – right down to the exclamation mark! So a word of caution to any new PhD students getting reading to embark on doctoral research this autumn – be prepared to work your socks off – and then some!