Ph.D. Candidate

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve finished all of the requirements to officially become a Ph.D. candidate. Now, I’m looking ahead to the next year or two of my life, contemplating the next and final steps to finishing my doctorate.

I can’t tell if I’m more excited or terrified.

There was a certain simplicity in knowing that I had weekly assignments, major projects and papers, etc. on a detailed schedule and timeline that someone else delivered to me. I just had to follow instructions, and I’d be making incremental progress.

I’ll just keep checking these off ’til I’m done, right?

Now, the landscape is a lot different. I have a very rough outline of next steps, but it’s largely up to me when and how I complete them. In general, I have four major phases remaining:

  1. Research proposal, in which I write the first three chapters of my dissertation (essentially, my book about the subject I’m researching).  These will be the introduction, the literature review, and the methodology of my research plan.
  2. Conduct the actual research in the field utilizing the methodology I proposed
  3. Write the rest of my dissertation (the findings and implications chapters)
  4. Defend my dissertation

The first major chunk of work, the research proposal, will likely be very time consuming.  In particular, the  exhaustive literature review of published papers relevant to my area of research focus will require reading hundreds (probably thousands) of pages of dense academic writing… But fortunately, it’s about a subject that I’m personally very passionate about, and it’s highly relevant to my job, so it hopefully won’t be too tiresome.

Of course the big question that many people immediately ask is, how long until I’m done? There’s no easy answer. One advantage to being a candidate is that I’m largely on my own schedule here, so I can push to complete it all quickly, or I can choose to take my time. I’m concerned that if I don’t keep a certain sense of urgency, I may not actually finish… but I also don’t want to burn myself out over the next year and hate what I’m researching, either.

More on this as time goes by… for now, I’m just focused on completing one step at a time.

I guess it’s not all that different from the first two years after all, is it?

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