Now that I am getting closer to end my Ph.D. I think more and more about what I have learned during these 3.5/4 years. Surely, I can list these, almost compulsory, skills that one needs to complete, such as demonstrating broad knowledge and systematic understanding of the research field as well as advanced and up-to-date specialised knowledge in a limited area of this field, demonstrating familiarity with research methodology in general and the methods of the specific field of research in particular, capacity for scholarly analysis and synthesis as well as to review and assess new and complex phenomena, issues and situations autonomously and critically, the ability in both national and international contexts to present and discuss research and research findings authoritatively in speech and writing and in dialogue with the academic community and society in general, and so on. But I rather want to write about what I had to learn while I was developing these skills, some prerequisites that no one told me and probably will not tell you. Not that they are very important and meant to be kept as secrets, just because we forget to tell them during our small talks.
I remembered my first meeting with one of the biggest companies of Sweden as a fresh Ph.D. student, probably during first weeks of my studies here. I was so naive, honest and enthusiastic that I wrote nearly every sentence they have said during that meeting. Later that day, I read anything I can find from research papers to forums to find a solution to their problem. I was quite sure that I can find a solution and solve it sooner or later. At the end of the day, I was—and sometimes still am—an engineer, my whole education until that point was on identifying and solving problems. After few years of working together on and off with that team, I realized why I shouldn’t try to solve their problem but focus on what the problem means for me and the research domain I work in. So one of the first things I learned was, basically, to love problems and leave solutions to later stages.
It took lots of energy and time but I certainly learned that I am not the best one of anything, anymore. Most of us are having that history of being the best one of something and then if not anything else, we start our Ph.D. as the best candidate who applied for the position. I continued to compete, stress myself a lot, put impossible deadlines to just motivate myself to do more and more. At some point, I had to stop, take a deep breath and tell myself that it is fine to rest for a while. I called myself as a recovering perfectionist after reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (not the first time but after second time). She defines perfectionism as:
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”
So, instead of trying to be perfect, I had to reshape myself to be enough. I am still working on it and according to my wife, I am a little bit hopeless. I am not sure if I could be able to do this for myself without involving with Ph.D.
I also learned that Ph.D. is not only about publishing but I am not sure if one can learn that by not publishing. It seems like many other experiences one needs to feel the struggle firsthand. Despite its cynicism, the phrase, publish or perish, makes an important point to remind the importance of sharing our research with each other. I took it way too much serious than one should.
This last point made me think and doubt about my communication skills for some time. Networking! I did not do networking, I didn’t even try to do it. I see that some people are valuing it more than honest discussions and it makes me sick in the stomach. Just to let you know, it works! I have met wonderful people by not networking or evolving to a salesperson. Several introverts, meeting around coffee machine with shy smiles and hellos made my days in many academic conferences. They turn to be my people and we continue to communicate. Or the colleagues that we shared the same passion for changing the world and then we found a way to collaborate. I am happy to have them beside me and work together not because we have to but we want to.
Now, I need to go and continue to write the article that I promised myself to complete in April. I said I am working on it, didn’t I?
You can find more detailed lits of competence and skills required for the Ph.D. degree in Sweden from this link: https://www.uhr.se/en/start/laws-and-regulations/Laws-and-regulations/The-Higher-Education-Ordinance/Annex-2/