I have been looking forward to this particular post for a while actually. A big opportunity for me to answer some unanswered questions. So essentially, this post is for anyone considering going for PhD and also to let you know some of the challenges I faced when deciding if it was for me.
I have found writing this blog to be quite useful in many ways. When I was making my application, I looked online for any PhD law related blogs. Hardly any. Looked for blogs related to my chosen research area. Hardly none. Searched for blogs which had some kind of advice for people who were thinking of a PhD…..found some, but many were very specific in that they were Science based. Not that helpful if honest but I could piece together some things from it. So thats how I got started with this blog.
Firstly, its enabled me to express myself much better. My confidence has never been called into question, but I find that it has improved greatly – within my relationships and within work. I’m no longer afraid to say no and have more confidence to speak bluntly. I believe my mother would call this ‘getting big for one’s boots’. LOOL.
Secondly, I am able take time to reflect on my journey personally and at the same time, give you guys a bit of insight. I use this blog as a platform to offer the little advice I have and to share some of my observations and experiences. Shikena.
Sooooo Fols,… why a PhD? (Ok, im writing this in the train and I think the person beside me farted. YUCK. But ok. Anyway..)
I’ve embarked on this journey for many reasons, so mini disclaimer: forgive me as this may be a long post.
So yes, why a PhD?
1. Initial Decisions..
Doing a PhD isn’t a decision one should go into lightly and its not one you should make overnight. I had to consider a million and one things. Further study for another three years is no joke. I considered all the Pro’s and Con’s. Some of the honest questions I asked myself included:
•What if my CV looks too education based? •Whats my end goal? • What would I be achieving by gaining a Dr in front of my name? • Was I doing it to prove a point?• What my final intention? • What did I want to get out of this thesis? •How relevant would it be in the real world •How could I package myself effectively if I decide to go back to Nigeria or if I decided to stay here? • If I returned to Nigeria, how would I fit in to the work life – what jobs could I target?
I was very fortunate to have acquired a lot of work experience during my studies and post law school. But something that kept propping to mind was where I would fit in should I decide I want to practice back in Nigeria.. Some law firms there have this problem with people who go and come back with a PhD. Where do they fit in? Associate position? Senior Associate? Is there an inbetween? Potential lack of experience could mean an Associate position is more suitable- gives them the ability to learn from their seniors and learn the ropes. Call it on-the-job-training. However on the other hand, you couldn’t deny that such a person is bringing a wealth of ‘knowledge’ ( in the broad sense..) and that can’t be overlooked. Nigeria and its ‘packaging’ is always resurfacing.
Some people think that when you do a Doctorate, it means that your final destination will be to become a lecturer. Error. Doing a Doctorate opens up many doors – Lecturing is not the only option. There’s:
3. In- house
6. Combining Lecturing & Practice
Depending on what your PhD is on and how your journey evolves, that will determine where you end up long term. The possibility of ending up as a lecturer was something I considered in the long term – another honest question for myself.
2. How important would my work be in the real world?
One of the main requirements that you need to fufil before being awarded a Doctorate is that you make an original contribution to knowledge. So yes. Copy and paste is totally out of it lol. Anyway, the reality of the PhD however is that even though you are exploring a ‘new’ topic – its not really new in the real sense of it. There is nothing you are writing that hasnt been written before. It’s just the way you package it.
Take X factor for example…most of the songs which are sang have already been sung and heard a million times over. It’s nothing new. But – when you hear it sung by a contestant in an audition, sometimes they will sing it in a different way and add a twist to it. Thats what makes it original. Or in x factor terms, shows ‘raw talent’. So to put it in context, the 100k word thesis I am going to produce (By Gods Grace…and all the people gave a RESOUNDING AMEN..) is work which is already available but my packaging and the angle I will look at it from will be different. Thus, fulfilling the ‘original contribution’ requirement. Hope that makes sense…?
So, I’m soorrrrry to dissapoint, but its unlikely that the thesis you produce will change the world lol.
3. Freedom of study?
Was I doing it of my own free will? Was I pressurised by parents/family into doing it? Absolutely not. I decided to embark on this journey because it was what I wanted to do. After law school I had many options – back in Nigeria and here in London. Even now, I still get the occasional emails asking me to join good law firms back in Nigeria once I have finished my current course. Embarking on a PhD should be something you have personally decided and have “conviction” over. Believe me, it is very easy for people to fall into the trap of
‘Ehn..do it now. It’s a good idea. Don’t worry, your father and I will fund your studies‘
LOL..Don’t laugh. It happens mate.
If you fall into that, please really think about if its for you.
4. ‘Student Status..’
This is quite funny actually. When people ask me what do I do, sometimes I just say I am a lawyer to avoid the whole truth. You don’t need to know if im practicing jor. Once, I told someone I was a student and she said ( and I quote..)
“Awwww, undergrad. What are you studying? Nursing abi?”
I just nodded lol. I couldn’t deal with any more questions that day. But why would you say nursing? So random. Anyway, the point is the prospect of being a student again for a long haul was something I had to consider if I was cut out for again. Burning the candle at both ends was not an attractive selling point.
I came across a blog yesterday which literally hit the nail on the head for me about this particular point. Read all about itHere . Something which I found a difficult was the transition back from ‘professional’ to ‘student’. Labelling. Essentially that was what was happening. I had just finished law school, newly qualified and here I was, returning back to student status. The challenge here wasn’t the course itself but what I would be called. So. When I discuss my current status my responses include but not limited to:
1. Doctoral Researcher
4. Doing a PhD
5. Research Associate
7. I am investigating….
8. What do I do now? * looks away*
9. Oh, me…erm. I am a lawyer.
I never say student. Call it proud. Issokay, I don’t mind . Call it identity crisis sef, issokay. On my business card (yes I have one thank you very much..) I had “Doctoral Researcher” written on it. I mean you can’t really have a buisness card then write student…it just looks odd. My friend at Warwick who is also doing a PhD – he will never call himself a student. In fact, he detests it.I still teased him about it last night. So when I ask him how uni was, his response is always
‘Fola, you mean how was work? ‘
Ohhh there is one pro to being a student – you can still enjoy student discount in alot of places and still enjoy intrest free overdraft. So I guess its not all that bad
5. Gender issues
Loll this is probably the most funniest for me. As I mentioned in previous posts, some people questioned my reasoning and wondered why I wasn’t rushing down the alter as opposed to rushing for student status again.
Honestly, being a woman doing this PhD wasn’t something I made a big deal out it. It was only after a while I saw what the fuss was about. I considered how I would deal with these issues being raised:
• You know you’re a woman (as if it was easy for me to forget lollll..) you don’t want men to run from you now • You dont want to be toooo overqualified, you’ll scare men away • Men will be scared to approach you o…• You’re not getting any younger o Fola( again, as if I had forgotten..) • • Your standards will be sky high when you finish o..• Men this, man that. Kai I was tired.
To summarise the above. I confess these are issues which I did consider. See, modernisation has spoilt the world o. In our society today, the power struggle between men and women is still sometimes an issue. Who earns more money? Who will take care of the bills? If I earn more money than him, I should have an equal right/say in the house abi? Please you can’t talk to me like that, don’t you know I am more educated than you? (During a fight…) I don’t blame you, when you’re an ordinary office manager, why wouldn’t you say that? Don’t you know I have a PhD..fool?!
Far fetched, but when a woman is angry or frustrated at maybe being the breadwinner, there’s nothing she can’t say.
But, again I confess that these should be questions that one at least thinks about. I’m not saying it should be a deterrent to you doing it, but at least prepare yourself for the possibility of hearing all this jazz and prepare yourself for how you’ll address it. Prepare yourself by looking at the bigger picture..if you’re single whilst about to start the PhD, look at about how it could impact on you when you eventually decide to settle down.
Consider youself personally, is there a possibility you’ll grow wings and think you can only be approached by certain men/women (if you swing that way LOL). If you’re with someone already, how supportive is s/he of your goal? Are you seeing early signs of problems with regards to persuing a PhD? Honest conversations with thyself is important o.
So far so good, the PhD journey has been interesting if anything. I have learnt things about myself that I didnt know, didn’t explore or didn’t pay attention to. Let me share some with you. For example, I have learned to listen more. Sounds silly I know. Listening more has helped me in more ways than I can have imagined. Its helped me pay more attention to detail about certain things.
I read on another blog recently, about someone who has now had the confidence to walk into any Senior Academics (in his department..) room and suddenly, they are interested in what he has to say. This has been the same with me both in and out of school.
I was at a networking event on Thursday (amazing people and I got to exchange cards with many interesting people..a lil bit about that later..) and at almost all of them, I find that people are now genuinely interested in my work. Interested in my field, interested period. Not that they weren’t before lol..but you guys understand. They are interested in my research. In my progress. Interested on what I have to contribute – its a nice feeling LOL. Notice the repetition of ‘interesting’. That’s the best word I can think of using.
My presentation skills and confidence have been significantly ehnanced. I’m more confident talking about my work to a large audience now. I had my reservations before. Well, not reservations. Lets say I was a bit shy. The fear of rejection is real yo.
All in all its been a good experience so far. It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Don’t let anyone make you think its easy peasy…this thing is NOT beans at all. The main issues I have encountered are the lack of readily available information and the occasional lack of motivation/writers block. Those have been my main challenges to be honest. My research area is very specific and as a result, getting data has been an issue. On Friday, I was reading a journal article by a very popular academic in Nigeria. Please believe me when I say I saw ‘Wikipedia’ on one of the footnotes. As in, Wikipedia. I was sooo disappointed. Unfortunately these are some of the issues you’ll face when trying to get data online about Nigeria.
If you’re planning a PhD on an area which getting materials could be difficult, try to establish some links with those who can help you get hold of it. Start sending emails to people who could have access to such data. Trust me, you’ll thank me eventually.
When I get a ‘writers block’, I do one of the following things:
a) remind myself this PhD is not free. It requires cash, energy and time. Time wasted is more painful than money spent.
and if that doesn’t work,
b) I buy something new.
Too ends of the spectrum I know. Please, go and disagree in your various compounds thanks in advance. The above works for me.
So to conclude. Whatever your reason is for doing a PhD, ensure you have gone through the thought process properly. The idea of a PhD sounds attractive I know..I mean, being called Dr is like the pinnacle now. But, it is not one to entered into lightly. Once people know you’re doing this type of course, unintentionally they see you in a different light. Again, call it pride. Those who know what I mean, know what I mean. Consider all your options and decide if this is the right step for you.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what I will do when I have finished but I know that there are so many options. These days, I try not plan beyond 3 months. Anything after that, gives me a headache. You can’t plan everything!
Till our next post