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Twisting PhD Trajectories

Twisting PhD trajectories

After more than a year of interviews for the PhD Talk podcast, and many years of hosting the “How I Work” series on this blog, I’ve come to one conclusion:

PhD trajectories are never straight paths

In fact, no life path is a straight path to a certain goal (unless that final certainty of death, but let’s not get into philosophical musings today).

My own PhD trajectory was not a straight path of literature review, experiments, data analysis, theoretical work, practical application, and thesis writing.

I arrived and my experimental work had to get started right away. Reading happened in between everything else. The practical application also had to start soon. Data analysis was intertwined with the experiments, and took a lot of iterations to get everything the way I wanted it. I wrote a lot of my thesis in weekends and evening hours. My theoretical work had to fit in at the end.

Many PhD paths take twists and turns. A hypothesis turns out to lead to nowhere. An experimental setup does not work. While reading the literature, we find that our original approach does not address the most interesting research gap out there. In all cases, we may feel like we have lost time.

These setbacks and changes of plan are part of research. The vary nature of research makes it so difficult to plan. As a result, we often feel like we don’t have a grip on time.

I cannot take away these feelings. I can only acknowledge here that every PhD candidate, every research project, and every PhD trajectory is unique – and that twists and turns are expected along the way.

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