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  • Mercè Bonjorn Dalmau

5 tips for going back to University to do a PhD


Just over a year ago, I wrote "I'm already in Denmark! This is how my Marie Curie adventure begins...” and I only have words of thanks for the incredible learning experience, growth, strength, disappointments, and undoubted achievements I have experienced both personally and professionally.

When you make a decision to do an International PhD, you can imagine what a trip it is to get it; however… you do not exactly know all the stuff it involves in the first year. I want to explain what I have learned in Denmark during the last year and how fast time passes when you enjoy and live so intensely!

A change of work, a change of country, a change of family environment, a change of language,... and much more, it is a tsunami of a project that is not only enriching, professionally speaking, but also a molotov cocktail on a personal level.

Going back to University after twenty years in a different educational system is an opportunity to relearn ways of learning. The Nordic educational system is totally different than the Spanish system.

In addition, time is different in business and university environments. Working for almost fifteen years in business fields and then changing to a university makes the mindset change, and previous thinking of what "was yesterday" has now become "must be left to mature”.

I want to explain to you my 5 key points that I have learnt in this year - “going back to University to do a PhD”.

1.- Investigating is about reading and writing iteratively

The process of conducting research can be defined from three interrelated situations: researching, reading and writing.

To investigate consists of searching for all of the information and previous research that is directly related to your project; this serves as the basis for the development of your thesis. It is as much about compiling a bibliography and doing fieldwork, as it is about observing the behaviour of the object of study. This must be read, related, discarded, and finally, justifying the relevance of the information compiled.

Reading is a process of observation and interpretation of the literature. During the reading process, three phases are established: the comprehensive, the interpretative and the argumentative-critical.

To write is to reread, to argue, to interpret, to discover, and to observe connections. Writing is not more than the final stage of a research process where the different points of view of the same object of study are exposed.

These points are the most important tips and the most difficult to accomplish.

2.- University and business have different rhythms

New business is time (not money… but that also is important!) and few resources are as precious and limited as time. Today's world operates at a dizzying pace where every second counts, and...this can be said of universities too.

A priori, it seems that at universities everything is slow and parsimonious, and it is because we do not know the long process involved in investigations. I’d like to start with the Pareto Principle, also known as the "80/20 rule", which states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our time and energy. We must focus on that 20%.

And then, Parkinson's law states that it is human nature to spend inappropriate time and energy on insignificant tasks that are perceived as important, rather than those of real importance (the renowned procrastination... by the way! Very common in PhD processes!)

Time management is different in a university compared to the business world because the objective is also different.

3.- The Nordic education system

The development of curiosity, creativity, and experimentation are the pillars of the Nordic educational system. For Nordic people, it is more important to learn how to think than to memorize. Teaching is not achieved by transmitting information that is repeated until it is memorized, without reasoned logic.

The student is the protagonist of the teaching / learning process, who expresses their needs, risks making mistakes, corrects their own production, and has autonomy over their own learning. Education is based on trust.

4.- My PhD; good challenges

A PhD means doing an investigation that nobody has done to answer questions that no one has answered. It is also an experience that gives you skills and knowledge to use for years after graduation. Although, no one said it would be easy!

From my experience, there are many different good reasons to do a PhD. First, to discover something that is relevant to my field of study, to learn something new about it, and to cover the gap. The process of learning and being curious to explore are vital to be able to carry out a PhD. Secondly, it is an ambitious personal challenge that impels me to define challenges that a priori may seem unattainable. In addition, this personal challenge allows me to acquire new skills in critical thinking, to be a good communicator in English, and to develop new skills to focus on in my professional future career. And finally, making this life experience gives me exponential personal growth and constant improvement besides being an example for my children (which fills me with absolute satisfaction).

Another important point is do not have fear of failure or of taking risks. You can learn more from your failures than successes because they are often catalysts for positive change in the future. In these cases, resilience is the true path to success in your PhD and elsewhere. The ability you have to overcome adverse circumstances is vital to persevere through adversity and reject toxic emotions.

5.- Motivation and focus

The most important skill for a candidate to do a PhD is the motivation for the topic of research (this is a wink to my supervisors 😉!). This motivation can help you to overcome all ongoing difficulties without struggling, to keep in control of your disappointments and to not give up in the long process of doing a PhD.

Dealing with stress and daily anxiety without burning yourself out is vital in every doctorate. To achieve this is vital to balance your personal life and research. For example, doing physical exercise, having some kind of hobby, giving balance to your mind, doing some mindfulness activity, eating and sleeping properly, and, above all, socializing and not isolating yourself.

I am an optimistic woman and always try to positivize all experiences. And being honest with myself, writing this post I self-affirm the true reasons for self-motivation. And I want to share with you…

This life experience is the most powerful way to grow, I can assure you!

I would love to hear your thoughts and tips, so feel free to comment on this post or drop me an email to mdalmau@sam.sdu.dk

#catchitn #PhD #MSCA #H2020 #research #education #nordics #SDU #business

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© 2016 CATCH. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement 
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