Aug 17

Surviving Your PhD Journey – Part 2

Today’s guest blog post is part 2 of 2, and comes from our Director, Larry Westfall. Read part 1 here.


The Road Less Traveled

A father took his 12-year old son boating. He had him motor out of sight of land and distracted him with conversation. Then he said, “Son, plot a course to the harbor.” The son replied, “I can’t. I don’t know where we are.” The father told his son never to forget what he had just learned: only when you know where you are can you plot a course to your destination.

This lesson applies just as strongly to your Ph.D. journey as it does to boating. Two of the larger causes of transition stress are when you don’t know where you’re going and when you feel you don’t have any control over how you will get there. You need to ensure you have a road map of the entire Ph.D. journey and learning process, recognizing that detours may happen along the way, but also acknowledging what part each of your fellow travelers (coach, mentor, advisor, or lab mates) will play. This road map should identify the stages between the current and future destination, the academic and experiential learning required, the skill enhancement and professional development needed, and the coaching and mentoring that is desired at each stage relative to the outcomes that are being sought.

Inevitably, all of us look at change processes and judge the prospect of the change by the WIIFM principle: ‘What’s in it for me?’ The answer to this question must be relevant to the needs and interests of the individual along with answers to additional questions such as ‘why should I leave here, how hard will the journey be, what will I need, and who will help me?’ Responses to these questions will help you not only feel more confident in the change process but will help you in your ability to understand and realize the part that others can play in your journey.

Your Destination Grows Closer

In the final analysis, as with many things in life, the ultimate choice is up to each of us. There is one thing that individuals retain irrespective of change and that is personal choice. You can choose to be involved or you can choose to sit on the sidelines. You can choose to be happy or you can choose a path of discontent. You can choose to ask the questions or you can choose to wait to be told. Ultimately the choice remains yours, to determine how you can overcome resistance and have positive and hopefully lasting personal change during your Ph.D. journey. So where are you in your Ph.D. journey? What is your destination? Are you confident in your road map and destination or are you on an off-ramp somewhere waiting to be towed? What one first step could you take today to get closer to your destination? What fellow travelers have you chosen to take along on your journey?


For more information on the various tools and resources available to you to chart a course for the future, please contact Graduate Career Services. We are available to assist you in developing a plan of action, providing individual coaching or engaging in broader group facilitation.