Few important points to consider before starting your PhD

starting phd

Few important points to consider before starting your PhD

Since you are reading this post, I assume that you have serious intention of enrolling for a PhD degree very soon or will be doing so in the near future.

The very thought of starting your PhD could scare you off. You might lack focus and clear guidance on what needs to be done to begin your scholarly work. Where to begin and how to go about it might give you sleepless nights. However, if you set your thoughts straight and if you focus, you might not have much to worry. At least, not when you have to ‘begin’ the long journey!

Here are few important points that you need to consider before starting your PhD:

1.Identify the right university:

The most important point to think through is the right university to pursue your PhD. You need to consider various factors before you choose the university. Some essential factors to consider are:

  1. The distance of the university from your home country or place of work, in case you work overseas. You will have to visit the university a couple of times as you progress in your research and hence it has to be convenient for you to travel back and forth.
  2. Availability of scholarship or funding – check whether the university is offering any kind of financial support. It is best to do some fact-finding about fees and funding support before selecting a university. Think twice on whether you will be able to afford the fees if you do not have financial support.
  3. Be sure of the specializations offered at the university. Talk to Professors at the university to get more details. Check if the university offers the field of study that is of your interest.
  4. Check the duration of the program. Get information about submission process, deadline, extension & so on.
  5. Make sure that the degree is recognized both in your home country and your workplace (again if you are employed). This is very important because you will be spending your valuable money and time and later if your home country or the country where you want to relocate for the sake of your career does not recognize the degree, you will be disheartened. You do not want that! The best thing to do is to talk to Professors or friends about the university and get their advice.
2.Do your homework on the norms and criteria of the university:

This is very important because the university might be offering only full-time programs. In some universities, even part-time streams will require that scholars spend one year full-time at the university. The university norms might otherwise require your physical presence for meetings with your Supervisor at regular intervals for giving updates. This might pose a problem if you are working in another country or if you are in a job where frequent absence from work (even for academic purpose) is not encouraged.

I stress this point because few of my friends had to withdraw after enrolling because they could not satisfy the university requirements due to various reasons. Therefore, it is best that you take your time and read the university guidelines before finalizing your choice of university. Sure enough, checking university norms and criteria is imperative even if you desire to do a full-time study.

3.Inform and get approval from your line manager or place of work:

This point is applicable to those who are working and wish either to do a part-time or online PhD program. Before finalizing the university, check with your line manager or appropriate department on the internal norms, in-house supervision requirements, study leave eligibility, higher studies support (if any) and such other procedures. Get a green signal from relevant authorities before starting your registration process. You will have to submit few documents from your workplace to the university. Check out this process and approval procedures from both sides.

4.Find your Research Supervisor:

If you think completing your PhD is a herculean task, finding and working with the right supervisor is even more a challenging task. I have known several of my friends who had to discontinue their studies because of unsupportive supervisors. You need to be constantly working with your supervisor and hence you need to choose someone with good academic record and interpersonal relationship. Talk with your friends and colleagues before approaching a supervisor.

5.Choose your area of interest:

Choose a research topic that really interests you. Base it on your passion. Discuss with people about your research topic and get their inputs. Do a thorough reading about the topic. Read and reread available literature, identify gaps in knowledge and analyze how you could contribute to the existing content. One of my Professors in my postgraduate study used to say that ‘when you think of a topic, you should experience the feeling of an ant nibbling your brain. You should feel something uneasy in your head. You should have the ‘topic’ itching in your head’. Can you imagine this? If this happens, you have hit on the right topic for research.

You will be working in this area for the next three or four years, therefore be very careful in picking your study area. This could be entirely related to your field of specialization or even inter-disciplinary, but the important thing is that you should be passionate about the topic.

6.Do in-depth Literature Review:

Once you are clear about your area of interest, start collecting and reading available literature on the topic. Try to read as much as possible about the topic. Note down points and keep thinking about it. Brainstorm with friends and discuss with your supervisor. The more you read the more clarity you will get about your research topic. You will be able to decide on your focus issues for your PhD.

7.Question yourself about the research title:

I still clearly remember my research supervisor’s question when I showed him my research title. He asked me if I was going to pioneer a new theory or wish to add to/prove/refute existing knowledge. Since, my area was social science research; his question was very pertinent to my title finalization. He advised me to keep it simple. I was not going to come up with a new theory. I was only trying to do my ‘PhD’! What my supervisor meant was to keep it more focused and precise. It will do you no good to have a wide topic for study without any focus. So tell yourself that this is for academic purpose and hence train your mind to be specific and focused.

8.Word your research title with caution:

Be careful when you are wording the title for your research. It has to be comprehensive, relevant and explicatory. Avoid having long titles and using broad terms. The title needs to make it clear to the reader the purpose and nature of the study.

9.Finalize the target location for study:

As stated in point seven, remember that you are doing your study for academic purpose. Your aim is to complete your PhD. So be careful in selecting the place(s) for conducting the study. Do not go overboard. For example, when I started to work on my PhD, I had initially thought of covering an entire State in India. However, my supervisor advised me against it and asked me to narrow it down to compare just two cities in the State. I realized later that had I not taken his advice, I would never have been able to collect data from all the cities.

Data collection would be very difficult as well as time-consuming if you have to cover a broader location for your study. So, try to keep it as narrow as possible without losing focus of your objectives. It is important to think about the target location in the preliminary phase itself because most often you would be stating the ‘where’ in your research title.

Once you have gone through these initial steps, you would have a fair idea about how you are going to progress in your PhD. After you get the approval and complete the registration formalities, you can then start working on formulating your research questions, identifying the problem statement, framing objectives and hypothesis and move further.

Wishing you a successful ‘Re'search journey!

Have I missed out something? Please leave your comments and suggestions in the box below.