Things to consider before PhD enrollment

Anurag Sharma sharing some of the ideas and suggestions from his own ongoing PhD research scholar experience


Having had the experience of pursuing a PhD myself, I thought of sharing some of the ideas and suggestions and hope that these would help those of you intending to pursue (or currently pursuing) a PhD. I registered for my PhD as a full-time scholar in 2017 at Delhi University's Faculty of Mathematical Sciences in the area of Bio-Statistics. I picked up this area of my research given my interest and having been associated with the subject for over 9+ years. I welcome any of you to reach out to me incase of any specific doubts or collaboration in your research related work. I love teaching as well as sharing my expertise to the extent possible.

(merriam-webster online) Dictionary meaning of BiostatisticsFirst order of business? Selection of the PhD topic that interest you!

The most important and foremost to-do item for an aspiring PhD Research Scholar is to decide on the choice of his/her PhD topic. Every field has diverse sub-fields and it is very important to understand what sub-field  / area interests you enough to be able to work in that area and contribute to it through your Doctoral Research. It is never a good idea to look for the field / area after gaining admission into the PhD program.

What does this mean to you? 

A lot actually. You must surely make up your mind after duly considering all the options any particular subject or research area offers. The fact that each broader research area offers a number of potential research topics makes it even more necessary to make up your mind first before seeking admission. This will mean, relying on your knowledge and instincts as well as discussing the same with people in the know of the the subject area, research & industry trends because only then will you stand a chance to make an informed decision/choice.

Why is choosing the topic at the outset very important?  

I have been witness to some of my friends and colleagues who took admission into PhD without having much of an idea of what they want to do. And sadly, I saw them stuck with their PhD not making any significant progress because they are yet to pick a PhD topic that really excites them.

Let me repeat - it is very important to talk with your seniors, conduct your own research on the kind of work going now in the field of your choice not just in the institutions shortlisted to be applied to but also in the broader global level. 

Why bother so much about "whether a topic excites / enthuses me"?

Yes, valid question. If you ask around, you'll know why it is very much important. This enthusiasm / excitement is the only thing that will help you stay motivated and pursue the course of your research. This self-motivation is essential when you confront situations wherein you don't get results as per your expectations. There may come a time when you'll notice that most of your friends and relatives - especially siblings from similar age group/generation - have started earning and begun to settle down in their own life. And you on the other hand, find yourself pursuing a research degree program at an university spending most of the day in front of a laptop or in the lab or library, striving to get that much anticipated significant and yet elusive result. When such moments pass by, and there will be occasions when such moments do come to occupy your mind, the enthusiasm and in fact the love you have for the field / research area comes into play. So, don't be casual about the PhD topic selection. Ask yourself: Does this kind of work and topic excite you?

Haven't we been told that one cannot choose her/his boss or parents? Can a PhD Research Scholar really choose his/her supervisor? 

With a tentative PhD Topic on hand, the second most important to-do is the choice of supervisor. There is yet no unanimity on whats most and second most important. For some, choice of the supervisor is more important than PhD Topic selection itself. There are yet some of them who believe that the choice of PhD supervisor is so critical and so selection of your guide / supervisor is done with great care and caution (greater care and caution perhaps necessary than choosing your life partner). The PhD Guide / supervisor is the one you will have by your side as a facilitator of your PhD Research. Besides the technical subject knowledge related discussions and deliberations, the scholar would often need support and direction from his/her guide-supervisor. Here is where the supervisor's general nature and interpersonal characterisitcs become important. The supervisor must have broader knowledge of your field, nuances of research process and interest in facilitating your research. The person should command your respect given his stature and standing. I repeat, the supervisor will seamlessly and at-times simultaneously be your mentor, critic, advocate and a voice of reason. In no small measure, the supervisor can contribute to not only cause your success at PhD Program, the ongoing relationship after the program concludes too must be considered. So, choose a person whose voice you’ll want to hear, often and for a longer period of time.

In this write up, I have consciously limited my focus on brasstacks. I hope you get started well on your mission PhD. Before choosing to puruse a PhD, make sure that you have passion for the research you want work on (most of the time). A PhD program is no mean achievement and will often offer an experience of a life time. It will be so much about understanding yourself better as much as it will be about the research in your chosen area and publishing some pathbreaking research outcomes.

The opinions, beliefs and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of or Genval Consulting Group Private Limited or any of its Partners.
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