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Dear PhD student – this letter is to you!

April 14, 2022
By Ezgi Ozyonum

Three wooden mannequins sit and talk Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

You got this! You are probably counting the days until you can be called  doctor. You might have played out the scenario in your head where your ex asks: "Miss or Mrs.” after ten years, and you respond, “Dr.”

Wait a minute… You had only focused on the “Dr.” part of this scene. You never concentrated on the fact that it was ten years later. Now you realize that the doctoral program means waiting a long time until you earn that title.
I’m five years in, and I’ve learned a lot. I have had many aha moments that I wish I knew before. So, dear PhD students, especially newbies – this letter is to you!

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

1. Choose between shrinking academic jobs or emerging careers beyond academia
Let’s embrace this: there are more PhD graduates than job openings in academia. The tenure track positions are shrinking year after year. Less  than 25% of PhD graduates get a permanent position. For those who like to beat the odds, becoming a full professor is possible - keep it up!

For those who have already given up or did not have goals of faculty jobs from the beginning, you might be interested in these careers outside academia. Although non-academic sectors have not significantly increased their uptake of PhD graduates, you can still choose a career in industry. If you are open to exploring diverse career options, you may consider the PhD Career Connect program at the university.

I recommend choosing your path from the start; otherwise, you will have to work double time to satisfy the demands of both academic and industry career goals.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

2. Full-time doctoral students’ workload is equal to five full-time professional jobs with no salary
The mandates of being a doctoral student are growing. As a graduate researcher specializing in your field, your primary mandate is to conduct ethical and responsible research; however, society has started to expect more from you.
You need to be a part-time therapist and a full-time influencer. As your workload increases, you need to listen to and calm your colleagues. At the same time, you need to inform the general public about your research – your job is not limited anymore to publishing in academic journals and presenting your findings to a niche expert audience.
Academics no longer stay in the ivory tower. In this respect, I am very grateful for the public scholar program - it provides opportunities for PhD students to be present in various spaces and utilize their diverse skills to become public scholars.
New PhD earners are social media specialists as they keep up with their multiple active social media accounts every day. You need to excel in your communication skills to write regular blogs and present your research in numerous talks. In addition, you should be an organizer, moderator, and marketing specialist to promote your research-related events to have a greater engagement with the community.
Sometimes, you need to act as a journalist networking with local and national newspapers, editing articles, and writing opinion pieces about your specialized topic. Some days, you act as an idol dealing with interview requests after giving invited talks.
The requirements list is not even close to finishing: you need to prove that you are a perfect teacher. Having lots of teaching experience will support you in building your teaching dossier and delivering courses confidently. At the same time, you need to be a great team player to satisfy both your department and your students’ needs.
Finally, let’s not forget that you are still a full-time student. You need to finish your courses and submit your assignments on time. You need to continue your research work and write that dissertation down.
You need to do this work with a minimum income as no one talks about the elephant in the room of academia: the salaries of graduate student-researchers. But, then, you may consider writing funding and grant applications and cover letters for awards.
How many jobs did I say – but honestly, who’s counting? A PhD does not have time for calculating it.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

3. Always remember your purpose
Although a PhD is a long and bumpy road, always consider your purpose. You may be demotivated from time to time, yet remember why you have started and what you want to achieve out of it.
Once my colleague told me that there were no mistakes – only missed takes. In this journey, you may have some bad days, disappointments, and rejections; nevertheless, many opportunities, possibilities, and learnings await you. If you are determined, you will achieve your goals in the end.

Photo by Kulbir on Pexels

4. Prioritize your research from day one
Do not fall in this trap that you think you have so much time to do your research. Instead, always prioritize your research from day one.
Discover what time works best for your productivity – whether you work efficiently in the morning or late at night - dedicate some hours each day only to your research.
You might have some barriers which limit your focus on research – try to remove them as early as possible. For example, there might be financial barriers – apply for funding and grants early on. Sometimes jobs, like a teaching or research assistantship, can be a source of distraction. Always spare some time in a day only for your research.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

5. Surround yourself with those who support you
Your first and foremost supporter is your supervisor – choose wisely. Do not be afraid to change if it is not a good match. Have a peer support group around you – who listen to your struggles and provide practical advice. Have a writing group that encourages you to carry on your writing tasks. Having a wide network in your research area that you can collaborate with; the conferences provide excellent opportunities to build your network. Finally, take support for your mental and physical health. A wise person once said, “resting is also part of the work, too”. Do not forget to learn to rest.
I hope you have a fruitful PhD journey.

About the author

Photo of Ezgi Ozyonum

Ezgi Ozyonum is a PhD candidate in Education. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Bilkent University and completed her master’s degree at Middle East Technical University. Ezgi has taught at the department of Education, Concordia University, and has delivered workshops for Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning and GradProSkills.

Her research brings critical and decolonial perspectives to the study and practice of internationalization and decolonization in higher education. Through her work, she seeks to interrupt common colonial patterns of education engagement. She presented her research at many national and international academic conferences including Comparative & International Education Society (CIES), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE). Her research findings could move Canadian Universities towards a more equitable and inclusive future.

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