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Beware of the psychopathic supervisor! And 4 other things that put your PhD at risk.

Beware of the psychopathic supervisor! And 4 other things that put your PhD at risk.

My first supervisor was a psychopath.

It’s not a joke or exaggeration. He would shout at me, call me worthless. Sometimes, during meetings, he would answer the phone and gossip for minutes while staring through me as if I were glass. Back then, I thought he was a caricature from the Twilight Zone. 

Yes, you’ll have an intellectual relationship with your supervisor. But what you might not realize is that it will also be an emotional one — parental even. I finally switched supervisors. But my relationship with the first cost me two precious years. If I would have continued, it could have cost me my sanity and my degree. 

Here are some other mistakes PhD candidates should avoid at any cost. 

 

1. Entering an unfunded PhD program

These days, many PhD programs are funded. However, not all of them are. Mine certainly was not. Know the challenges of choosing to enter an unfunded program. You can get loans, but this could cause you to acquire a significant amount of debt. I remember reading in the Atlantic the research conducted by Karen Kelsky, a former anthropology professor turned consultant and  blogger for aspiring academics.

Her debt survey queried hundreds of PhDs, its results went viral, and it revealed a fascinating find: if you’re pursuing a PhD in the humanities or social science, you’ll probably be unable to finish the program without 5- or 6-figure debt.

So quite simply: seriously consider a funded program. The cost-savings will be significant.

 

2. Procrastinating

 

If you are like me — and perhaps most of humanity — you probably procrastinate every now and again. It’s okay, as long as you can be honest about the habit, when you’re doing it, and re-focus when you must. 

My favorite way to procrastinate: surfing the nether-regions of the net.

I’ll catch up on my favorite news sites. And, of course, I must clean my email inbox, feeling all the while that little voice within warn that I am off task. 

Listen to that little voice! When it happens to you, try to reboot.

Close your browser. Wait two minutes. Restart your mind. Restart your browser, and start anew. If you create the space you need to re-focus first, you can then get back on task and back to work.

 

3. Relying on a mediocre word processor for your dissertation

(Disclaimer: You are on the Mellel website, and as you can imagine, the Mellel Team is very happy that I write kind words about their kick-ass writing machine. Just thought I’d address the elephant in the room. You can take what I say with a  grain of salt if you want, or try for yourself. It’s free.)

We who use Mellel, have already learned this lesson: just because a word processor is popular doesn’t mean it’s the best for writing your dissertation. The most popular ones are great for short papers or letters, but become quite a headache when writing longer works. This can pose a major threat to your work. It can crash, freeze, and slow you down, becoming an obstacle to you and your first finished draft.

The most popular ones are great for short papers or letters, but become quite a headache when writing longer works. This can pose a major threat to your work. It can crash, freeze, and slow you down, becoming an obstacle to you and your first finished draft.

And there’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours trying to get your word processor to work. I wish I knew about Mellel, back then. I’ve been writing with it for 4 years now, and it doesn’t crash, it handles bibliographies and references quite well. I never thought of waiting to scroll down the page was wasting time. It was just part of the painful writing process. Now I know better. How untrue! Writing apps that fit your unique needs is a must while studying, so invest in something that works.

 

4. Underestimating the difficulty of a PhD program

You probably already know, but let me reiterate that PhD programs are extremely challenging. About half of my colleagues didn’t finish their studies. Don’t underestimate how difficult your program is going to be. There is far less instruction when compared to undergraduate studies. And it can be a lonely, rigorous path. Anticipate these challenges. Only enter the program if you know what lies ahead, and if you are dedicated and prepared to face it.

Conclusion

Getting your PhD isn’t easily accomplished, but it certainly is rewarding despite the challenges. Believe you me, there are several unseen ups and downs, exhilarating and harrowing experiences awaiting you. Remembering these tips is just the start — a step in right direction to success.

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