This term in my PhD, which is the first term of my second year, has so far been very different than any of my previous terms in university. In all of my previous terms I spent considerable time taking courses. The only exceptions would be the last two terms of my master’s where I was doing research for my master’s research paper and doing original research that eventually led to a published paper, as well as my acceptance into the PhD. As anyone knows, coursework involves usually at least a couple out of the following: assignments, midterms, papers, exams. You constantly hit with deadlines for “small stuff” to track your progress and your learning rate. The same can be said when I took the two terms to do research in my master’s. I only had the two terms to complete the research I needed to do and so I and my supervisors kept track in more or less a timely manner.
Now, however, I’ve completed all the courses I need for my PhD. And I have about three years ahead of me to do whatever with. So I’m left to go at my own pace whether that be fast or slow. And like a lot of graduate students for me it has been slow. Despite my strong effort to do effective research in the last few months, I haven’t really produced anything. I’ve tried to get the research to go in a lot of different directions so far and almost nothing is coming of it. On top of which I’m studying for my next and final attempts at the comprehensive exams of which I failed last year. And while I’m pleased to say that so far I understand the material a bit better than last time, there is nothing to indicate this except my brain. The instant gratification that such things as courses provided is gone.
So if you ask me how well my second year of PhD is going so far, I can only say that it seems to be going well and leave it at that. One thing that has helped, however, in working in the dark like this is actually asking on my supervisors what he thought about progress or lack thereof on my research so far. It was a bit relieving when he said there was no need for concern and that while the research this time was going slower than my previous research experiences that research effort often turned out that way and that you can’t really guess what speed it’ll go.
It is also nice to have courses over while I prepare for my final attempts at my comps. Since the comps are the major thing this year and will determine my continuation in the PhD program, I have a lot of time to dedicate to them without overworking myself. In fact, while I am putting in a good number of hours into my studies overall (50 hours per week), I’m not a workaholic. So far it’s working. After a limited number of hours spent on studying on a given day I simply stop regardless if I liked my progress so far or not. And then simply go off and do something outside of my studies. I find it really reduces the amount of stress and anxiety and that I did the best I could at the moment and I can’t ask for anything more from myself. Then in subsequent years I can allow myself to do a lot of extra things for my PhD: give more talks, attend more conferences and seminars, maybe even actually teach a course, basically make myself known as much as I can, which is crucial in academia. But first, I’m going to survive second year with the comps.