A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a momentous challenge that is exhilarating, stressful, and highly rewarding. To start this article, I will offer just a brief background of what a PhD is, my own research area, and what a ‘day in the life’ of a PhD student (i.e. me) looks like!
A PhD in Australia typically runs between 3 and 6 years, though there is increasing pressure from universities to ensure PhD students finish at the three-year mark, or only a little later. The days of PhD students lasting for six to seven years are long gone, as funding pressure means that universities need to get PhD students graduated and producing papers for the university. Typically, a PhD has three major milestones that you must pass in order to keep progressing in the degree:
These occur, respectively, in years one, two, and three. PhD candidates will typically get two attempts to get past these milestones, which consist of a paper/chapter submission to a university-appointed panel and a presentation, and if they fail on the second attempt, they usually will have their PhD terminated. Most PhDs can be taken without scholarship (i.e. without payment), though they are usually at no direct cost to the student (speaking of domestic students here). Sometimes scholarships will be available, and they usually range from $18,000 to $27,000 a year (non-taxed).
I am currently doing a PhD in political economy and feminist studies, where my project investigates the impact of International Monetary Fund and World Bank-led economic programs on women’s political and economic participation in conflict/post-conflict, with my case study being Ukraine. I actually had no prior experience in political economy or feminist studies, and I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity through a previous research supervisor who was indirectly related to my current PhD project. My honours thesis (it is generally a pre-requisite that you have a first-class honours or a Master’s thesis) was actually in neuroscience, and most of my research experience prior to my PhD had been in medical/surgical research and legal research. However, the experience of my PhD, which included a huge and very stressful initial learning curve, has been absolutely fantastic so far, and has been one of the most personally transformative and empowering undertakings that I have ever entered into!
My ‘regular’ day is hard to pin down… as every day and week is incredibly varied! However, I will try to paint a bit of a picture for you.
To me, completing a PhD has been by far the most rewarding thing that I have done in my life (I am a medical doctor and law graduate too!). I have been very lucky in having the opportunity to undertake a PhD, and I have gone through a significant amount of personal development and learning and have had my entire world view shaped by my readings and research throughout my studies. My day may seem somewhat mundane to the outside viewer, but having the opportunity to read great literature, (try to!) write something that might make an impact in the world, and be tutored by world experts in their field, is something I would recommend you all seize with both your hands if you are lucky enough to get the chance!
Elliot DE is a current PhD Candidate, Medical Doctor & Law Graduate. He is also a Humanities Tutor at GradReady Preparation Courses.