Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Point at Which PhD Students Wander

In my meeting last week with my advisor, he asked me to come prepared with a schedule for the summer. True to my engineering training, I put together a Gantt chart of tasks and deadlines for things I would like to accomplish for research this summer.

My advisor wanted me to make a schedule so that he could keep me honest, basically - if I have target deliverables each week, then he can check and make sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to. If I have no target, he has no way to know whether I'm doing enough or not. (Of course, I kind of like it that way... I have plenty of side projects to keep me busy!)

But making a schedule is good - and a little accountability never hurt! Especially since I had a committee meeting in February, and my goal is to have the next one in August. The schedule I put together for the summer is designed to have me in a good position for a committee meeting - equipment designed and fabricated, some experiments completed, and an analysis of the experiments compared to a theoretical model. If I can get that done, I'll have a nice chunk of progress completed, and a good story to tell at the committee meeting.

It will also be a nice time to get some feedback (wait - committee members can be helpful? what a concept!). I have no idea what the results of the preliminary experiments will be, and those results are going to drive my research going forward. So it would be useful to get some direction from the committee at that point. Or, as may be more likely, I may just direct myself and simply ask for confirmation... :)

But my advisor made this comment during the meeting: "The other reason I asked you to make a schedule is because this is the point in the PhD when a lot of students begin to wander." About two years into the PhD, it turns out, is kind of a critical juncture for students. My advisor has found that if he doesn't keep students motivated during this period, one of two things can happen. First, they may think that graduation is too far off to worry about, they have plenty of time to get the work done, and consequently have little motivation to keep making progress. Or, they may think that the amount of work is insurmountable, and they become discouraged and again have little motivation to continue forward.

I think in my case, I have just discovered too many other cool things which I am also motivated to work on... so it's time to regroup!

Onward with the PhD! If I'm going to be out of here next June, (and believe me, people, I am highly motivated to graduate) this summer is crucial to getting some progress made... No wandering!


  1. Yes, yes! I found that a schedule was really important during my PhD. My committee members also told me that they appreicated the fact that I was super organised let them know that I wished to finish with the degree accomplished properly and not to flounder and risk dropping out.