A Tiny Pick-Me-Up Dose mid-PhD

I have been told many, many times that I am wasting my time getting a PhD because I’ll just end up unemployed and poor. It could very well happen, I guess. Still, after being part of the workforce for over a decade, I believe I have a unique skill set that should allow me to get good jobs, regardless of whether I am awarded a PhD or not. I’m certainly not getting this degree in the hopes of becoming rich and famous. If that’s the case, why am I trying to get a degree that is not a certainty in taking me anywhere in my career?

The first reason is because I believe that there is a space in the world for researchers, those that wholeheartedly want to contribute to knowledge. I enjoy learning, experimenting, exploring, discovering, debating, problem-solving, and challenging old information. There is a space for the knowledge generators in the same way there is a valuable role for the innovators, the regulators, and so on.

Second, this is an opportunity I am truly grateful for. I was born in a developing country where education was not necessarily a right, but a privilege. My parents and their families made it possible for me and my sister to have a truly comfortable and meaningful childhood. I was in formal education since I was five and was enrolled in the best schools and universities in the nation. Maybe this culture of valuing education has been instilled in me, and although I am now living in Australia, being offered this chance to continue my education was something I could not pass up.

Finally, some people may think I’m being idealistic. I’m in my 30s and back as a full-time student at university. I am under no illusion that I need to work. In fact, I am continuing to work and persisting at maintaining networks and establishing new relationships with peers. If anything, after I graduate, I can add the below skills and competencies to my list of experiences throughout my career:

  • Doctoral researchers are persevering and are highly systematic at finding answers to problems and questions.
  • Doctoral researchers are experienced at failing repeatedly and, yet, are able to re-tackle obstacle and succeed eventually.
  • Doctoral researchers are able to manage a team as well as manage supervisors.
  • Doctoral researchers don’t flinch at uncertainty. They take calculated risks.
  • Doctoral researchers generate new information.
  • Doctoral researchers are both competitive and collaborative, and they know when to be which. There are many successful researchers who work in industry, outside of academia.

I think with most degrees, we students try to find a good balance between passion and practicality. We all want good jobs when we graduate, but we also want a meaningful job and / or career. We will be spending so much of our waking hours at work, it would be great for our wellbeing to also actually enjoy a bit of the work we are doing. Having said that, we need to be capable of earning a living. We need to afford food and housing and other basic things. Otherwise, what’s wellbeing if you’re homeless, right? I have to be honest in saying that of course I worry about the next step after my degree. Nevertheless, I am here now. I have part-time work that is sustaining me, and I have this chance to be engaged in work I value and enjoy.

I think of my paternal grandfather. Wikipedia describes him as a Harvard graduate, an academic, economist, and historian. He was also named as a National Scientist. He was President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Philippines. His true significant contributions, though, were as a beloved teacher and mentor. I recently read one of the tributes that were written about him when he passed away. I remember him as I sometimes struggle to write and find encouragement in the quiet and solitary hours of writing my doctoral thesis.

An uncommon man who lived simply. At his wake, friends and former colleagues who greeted the family saw, beneath the urn that contained his remains, only a few mementos of the man: a picture of his investiture as UP president, a family photo, a snapshot of three motorcycles with OD and his two sons who shared the hobby, an archery equipment that was his athletic solace, and, finally, a framed hand-written letter of dissertation adviser, Harvard University Professor John Gauss, who wrote in longhand on May 8, 1956 from his 6 Follen St. home in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

My dear Mr. Corpuz,

I cannot return this final section without telling you what a superb work I think this is, and even more how deeply I admire its author for the qualities with which this work was accomplished. To have done all this in a strange land yet in some measure, for a half century related to your own, in the loneliness of absence from your family, seems to me a great achievement. I am glad that you gave me the privilege of seeing this work in its progress, and grateful for our association which will, I hope, continue in the years ahead, as colleagues.

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