The challenging part of studying is by far trying to keep yourself motivated to successful completion. I have been busy with my doctoral studies for four years now, and having reflected on my journey thus far, it has been no walk in the park. It requires some serious motivation, discipline, lots and lots of reading and research, and being accountable to someone.
But here are some of my thoughts around it:
- I often joke and ask my wife, “Why in the world am I doing this to myself?” But that question, while it is said in jest, is important. To put it another way, “What is the reason or purpose of my studies?” I know in our current dispensation in South Africa, employment and landing the dream career, or any job in fact, has become extremely difficult. Many people are either wondering what the point of studying is when there’s a great probability that they might not even end up in the field that they have studied for. Then there is another group of people who realises that without the particular degree, with the challenges in the job market, they might not have the competitive edge to the rest of the field. I, however started my doctoral studies with a different mentality. I just wanted to complete my PhD for myself, I felt that it was something that I wanted and knew that it probably would not land me anywhere close to where I wanted to be. Don’t believe me? Consider the job market for studying theology! Know your reasons for studying and don’t lose sight of it.
- You have to choose the right subject matter that not only has a research gap but also one that will keep you motivated and excited. Truth be told, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to do something that you have absolutely no interest in because after three years, if you are frustrated out of your mind, you still need to enjoy what you are doing. But enjoying your subject matter cannot be the only factor, if your subject does not have a research gap, you probably won’t be allowed to register in any program. Unfortunately, there are still legal requirements and one of them is identifying a research gap in the field that interests you. Many supervisors will try and steer you in the direction of their hobby horses – I almost fell prey to that – while they can suggest and direct they cannot dictate. Study what you love and love what you study.
- Being accountable and staying in contact with your supervisor, hopefully it will be a supervisor who has your best interest at heart and not bullying you around into what he or she wants you to focus on. Your supervisor is of utmost importance, as he or she will give valuable guidance and insight into the direction of your studies. I think for me it has also been important to be accountable to my family because I have not been the only one to sacrifice much along this journey. Besides, when completing the degree, it will not be my success alone.
- Have time frames and stick to it, or you will quickly be treading water. It’s amazing how quickly time can run away from you when you not looking and soon you’ll realise that it’s four years later. This brings me to my final point…
- Work on your studies every day. For the first obvious reason, it will eventually get you to the finish line. Second, it reminds you that are busy with something significant and helps keep you focused and motivated. Besides, the up side to it is that you will be learning something new everyday.
So before you judge me on my four years of study, the maximum time allowed to completion of my doctoral studies is four years. So, four years is not that bad after all. So which of the above am I not sticking to? Honestly, all of them. Hopefully this will be a lesson of negative learning for me. While negative learning is not the best way to go, I am glad that there is some introspection on this journey.
What is the way forward for me? Well … completing my studies. This time next year will be my submission for examination and hopefully then the 5 points above would have stood me in good stead. I cannot wait…