Misconceptions about the PhD

I don’t know about you, but when I signed up to do a PhD I thought I mostly knew how it was going to work. *cue laugh track*

  • The PhD is just about the thesis.
    • Reality- The thesis is only part of the PhD. Which is insane to think about. Over the course of my first year I published, presented at numerous conferences (maybe one too many…) including at international conferences, have taken a few mini-research trips, worked part-time, started convening a reading group, started GTAing…and I got married. There is no limit to the opportunities you can take advantage of on your PhD, but try not to get overwhelmed. Do what makes you happy, and excited to be in your position. Try to avoid your PhD experience feeling like a chore- it is easily done but you’ll be much better off in the long run by focusing on doing things that keep you excited by and interested in your topic.
  • The PhD would be like my Masters.
    • Reality: The PhD is a whole new beast never before experienced. I did not anticipate the PhD being as challenging as it is, and not because of the thesis writing, but the research in general is something I’m learning more and more about as I go along. Mistakes in handling my data or chasing down a topic that turns out to be irrelevant costs me valuable time, something I didn’t realise was so precious until getting to my second year. There’s not really a clear-cut path on how-to-PhD, we’re all just kind of bumbling along figuring it out. There are definitely times I long for the simple days of having 3-5,000 word essay deadlines and group projects, but alas here we are.
  • People might not understand my topic, but they would understand doing a PhD.
    • Reality: ‘So when are your exams? Aren’t you on summer break? When do you finish?’ I find myself constantly face-palming over the complete lack of understanding by my non-PhD peers and family. They try…bless them, but getting good at a quick 3-5 minute elevator speech on my PhD topic and how the PhD works is definitely a skill I wish I could add to my CV.


  • You’ll butt heads with your supervisors at every turn.
    • Reality: Maybe for some, but my supervisors are oftentimes the only people in the world I can turn to when I’m lost/overwhelmed because they’ve been there. Do I still get a mini panic-attack before every supervisory meeting? Absolutely! Is it because of anything they’ve done? Not at all, it’s my own nerves manifesting telling me I’m not good enough. But without fail, I walk away feeling a weight lifted off my shoulders after my meetings and chastise myself for getting all worked up over nothing.
  • You need to go to all the conferences.
    • Reality: You may have a busy conference ‘season’ one year, and a totally quiet one the next, it really depends on what conferences are running/the themes that fit your research, where they are, and the availability of funds and time to go. I spent my first year panicking about attending and speaking at enough conferences to the point that my supervisors had to kindly remind me that writing papers wasn’t the objective- writing my thesis was.

Reality: I was having a terrible allergy attack this entire conference. And my luggage was lost.

  • You need to publish all the papers.
    • Reality: Many people will tell you publishing is a matter of quality over quantity. Some will say the opposite. When push comes to shove publishing is all about your needs and interests. You shouldn’t feel pressured to publish if you do not think you have something publishing-ready. I know people who did not publish at all during their PhD, but then went on to publish books after they were done. Equally, I know people who had a whole list of publications but are seeing little payoff from it. You need to do what is best for you at that point in time. If an opportunity to publish come along, definitely give it some consideration but don’t feel that it is the only way to show growth and reach in your PhD.
  • You’ll have no life.
    • Reality: I actually feel like maybe I have more of a life during my PhD than I did my Masters, but perhaps that is because the crippling loneliness of the PhD is so heavily talked about by my peers we all make more of a point to touch base with each other than we felt we needed to during our Masters. I find that no matter what your area of study is, if you’re doing a PhD, you easily connect with other PhD students.  The PhD experience can be very lonely, but if you look for it you will find that a community is there, and is keen to do pub quiz, ice cream de-stressors, coffee chats…anything to take a breather from the daily grind.


  • Your PhD experience will be the same as those around you.
    • Reality: I have yet to meet a single other PhD student whose journey looks like mine. We all come up against our own challenges, and have different aspects of the PhD that run smoother than others. No journey is the same, so save yourself the stress of constantly comparing to those around you.
  • You get a puppy upon submission.
    • Reality: Wait…are you saying we don’t get a puppy at the end of this?? I quit.

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Brittnee via email at b.leysen.1@research.gla.ac.uk or connect with the blog on Twitter

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