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Ask A Happy Ph.D. - Student edition

- 4 minutes read - 673 words

This time I would like to turn the mike over to you, PhD students, and let you tell me what you want to hear about in this blog (I will do a separate one for supervisors and supervision later on). What would you like to know about doing a Ph.D., or being a (happier, more productive) PhD student?

When I started this blog back in January, my goal was to learn about how to support PhD students in becoming researchers, especially around certain problems that I had seen with increasing frequency (like anxiety and depression). I also wanted to put out there ideas, tips and tricks that I thought could be useful for others, both from my own experience and everyday practice, and from research studies I’ve been reading on these issues.

Almost four months and eleven posts later, I hope some of you found some of these ideas useful… but I cannot help but wonder whether I am focusing on the right topics, on the problems that actually bother you every day as you try to learn the ropes of research.

Now there seems to be about 200 of us reading this blog (maybe around 50 reading regularly), so let’s see if I can make it even more useful to each of you: What are your main obstacles to progress and productivity? What do you see currently as the biggest threats to your wellbeing? what things about this whole research business still puzzle you? what did nobody teach you, that seems crucial now in your everyday researcher life? Let me know in the form below, until May 2nd!

If I can give you ideas about how I (or others I know) do any of that, I will. And if there is research on any of those issues, I’ll try to find it and bring it on.

NB: Of course, you can also put your ideas here if you are a supervisor, but try to think them from a student’s perspective (what bothered or puzzled you when you were a PhD student?).

Update: Poll results

After closing the poll, I counted about one response to the question of what topics the readers of the blog would like to see covered. Thanks a lot, dear suggester! (if you are reading this, you know who you are).

This was by itself a quite interesting finding. It made me reflect on how busy everybody is these days (especially in this blog’s target demographic), and makes me rethink things like the length and style of the posts: probably people would find them more useful if they were shorter and more direct.

Finally, in case you’re interested, 100% of the suggestions focused on a very interesting topic: how to talk with your supervisor about the issue of (doctoral student) autonomy? We already saw that this sense of being in control of your own direction is quite crucial to persist in the Ph.D.. Then, what to do if you find that your supervisor is micro-managing exactly how the research needs to be done, how the research questions should be worded, etc.?

Being now on the other side of the table, I totally understand the supervisor urge to “correct” the work or direction of my students (especially when you see they are going in a direction that will prove unproductive, or using methods that will not be acceptable for your scientific community). But sometimes we can go too far and just impose our style of doing things on our students (which is not the goal of a doctorate, in many fields). I am not aware of research particularly around this issue, but I’ll try to dig around and I’ll come back to you if I find any useful tips or techniques. For now, maybe the only piece of advice I could give is: try to find out if the directions given by the supervisor are really about unacceptable practices, or rather are “a matter of taste” – and try to (politely) point this out, if it is the latter.

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