Grad School: I Survived Week One!

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I did it — I survived my first week as a PhD student. 

There is a lot of mystery about the PhD, probably because so few have done a PhD, and those who do tend to run in the same circles and do not interact with the outside world too much (more on that later).

So, as part of my blogging I want to provide my look into a PhD program. This is much-needed information, something that I could have used, and that the undergrads at Case I’ve spoken with could also use (I am half-kidding about making an FAQ page!)

Remember, please. I have done one week. If you’ve got more experience, leave a note in the comments. 

1. It is a research degree.

The point of the doctorate is to prepare you to create knowledge via scientific research. 

While undergrad walks you through established theories (if superficially), the doctorate expects you to expand upon and make new theories. This discovery happens through science. 

For example, I have a good deal of statistics, but my first week of stats here was unlike classes I’d had before.

In the past, the data was just given to me as if it had fallen from the sky. 

In this class we looked at how to code surveys and clean them — pointing to the idea that we ourselves would be designing and collecting the data. Very different than undergrad!

1a. Does this explain the “ivory tower?”

Science of course should be objective. Research should not have an agenda. This push for neutrality explains the isolation of academia. It’s not quite suspicion, but it is unease.

In a business school, work with business is inevitable (that is where our data should be coming from!) But there is a divide between consulting and research. This is why those who go into the private sector are considered to have abandoned something — the ability to conduct pure research.

2. It really is a Doctor of Philosophy. 

So the PhD is a scientific research degree. But science is a philosophy, despite the common (and ludicrous) claims of the huge divide between the liberal arts and more “practical” degrees. 

The program has pushed my thinking in ways I never have — in just a week! I have made new observations big and small — from the terrain of my driveway to the ways different Internet platforms make money.

I am focusing on information systems design. Others at my school are focusing on 

Before the program I thought that was a little hokey — that the PhD was just a way to get really smart. But it is not “getting smart” in the undegrad way of reading lots of books or doing lots of things. This is “getting smart” by generating new knowledge — and that takes philosophy. 

3. It is busy

It has only been a week, but I am feeling the fatigue already.

Classes are intense — you cannot coast. Most are seminar-style — sit around the table and talk about what you read (and you read tons). 

My statistics class is five hours long — the first three are lecture-based, and then the next two are “optional” homework time (best to stay around, though, as here is where you actually learn how to do this theory on the computer!)

I never quite believed people who said a PhD was so tough, but now I have an idea. Yes it is hard. Yes I will be “working summers.” But let me qualify that. 

3a. But in a “feast or famine” kind of way — unlike corporate work. 

Claims should be qualified with the question: “compared to what?”

In the case of the PhD, yes it’s hard. But compared to what? What else besides a PhD would you be doing? 

If not for the PhD, I would be in a cubicle from 7a to 5p and then back home to read, write, and research.

My schedule has more variety these days. 

Sure I have 14-hour days. But then I have days where I don’t come to campus at all. Of course, I am working these days on homework, research, etc. But I am working on things that I would like to be doing anyway — reading, writing. 

I see the school year designed in a more natural, human way — the feast or famine model. Periods of intense exertion, followed by a break.

This is much healthier than today’s corporate model of a slow, continuous churn. Maybe I never worked as hard in any single day in the workforce. But it went for months on end, without a break. 

If you have some PhD experience, I’d love your thoughts. If you have more questions, email me or leave a comment. 

 

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