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Top Ph.D. application mistakes Top Ph.D. application mistakes
by Akli Hadid
2014-12-30 09:47:54
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Having been in a Ph.D. program for 4 years, I can immediately tell those who will end up graduating from those who will suffer before they graduate, if they graduate at all. Here are some mistakes people do when applying for a Ph.D. programs. I hope this article will help you make up your mind if you’re pursuing a Ph.D. in the humanities.

The mistakes are in the order I see them, I’ve made some of them myself.

DON’T aim for the Nobel Prize for Economics. The Nobel Prize for Economics is a bit of a lifetime achievement award if you look at all the past winners. Officially they get the prize for one or two articles that they’ve published, but the prize really looks at their entire body of publications, sometimes spanning 20 years. Work on your Ph.D. one paper at a time, one dissertation chapter at a time, rather than thinking that one paper will win you the prize in the next few years.

DO keep your ambitions simple. I can tell those who have expertise in an area from those who don’t. There are those who listen to Teaching Company lectures (which are great) but only mention the most widely known studies. Then there are those who attend conferences on a regular basis, and who know about the ocean of studies that are being made by thousands of researchers, that are sometimes contradictory in nature, and that sometimes even contradict famous studies.

DO know how to research. A lot of people I meet think researching is merely fact-gathering. It’s a lot more than that. Researching means gathering data (usually first-hand) then analyzing the data, before reaching conclusions. 

DO prepare to be contradicted. Sometimes contradictors have a point, sometimes they’re just trolling around. Here’s the deal: if the contradictor recommends that you read a book and asks you to look at a specific page, then he or she’s being a good contradictor. If the contradictors merely raise their voice with no specific reason, they’re just trolling around. Nod and move on.

DO socialize as much as you can. The ideal is that a Ph.D. is that thing where you lock yourself in a room and read lots of books and articles, then come up with a nice piece of work called a dissertation. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If you’re ambitious and energetic, try to go to at least 2 conferences a month. Some of the conferences are free, and you’ll always meet lots of people who sometimes share similar research interests.

DON’T talk about your research at conferences, except when you’re presenting. DON’T talk about your research to your classmates, family, friends, spouse, partner, or anyone really, except when you’re presenting. That’s the unfortunate part of doing a Ph.D. but no one really cares about your research, and talking about it will lead to more confused looks than to praise. This is because research is so in-depth (for my dissertation I interviewed 200 people asking them 36 questions) and people tend to stick to common sense and tend not to have time to listen to in-depth commentary.

DO see it as a ticket to academia rather than a ticket to knowledge or intellect. In 2014 I went to 30 conferences, attended about 200 talks, heard about some 1,000 research projects. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. I was invited to a graduate student conference where 15 students shared the findings of their Master’s thesis, and that’s just one graduate school. There are hundreds of graduate schools, thousands of graduate students, thousands more active researchers working on projects. If you think a Ph.D. will give you the ticket to knowledge and expertise on anything, think again.  

 


   
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