Being in a doctoral program brings its own share of challenges and rewards. Currently, I have completed almost two years in my Ph.D. program. Looking back on my progress, I can proudly say that every challenge I encountered has helped me grow both academically and non-academically.
Here are six valuable lessons I learned from being in a Ph.D. program and am still applying to my life:
Learn to Trust Yourself
This might sound simple, but for many people (especially graduate students), trusting yourself can be hard to do. There are moments where you might question your own capabilities and feel you are not up to par, but this is completely normal. Try to avoid dwelling on negative thoughts for long periods of time. The key in getting through a Ph.D. program is to stay focused on your goals and to work on them every day. Making any kind of progress is crucial to getting things done. One thing that I do every day is write down what I am grateful for and what I want to achieve by the end of the day. By doing this, I feel more positive, and that positivity is reflected in everything I do.
Listen to Your Advisor
I admit I was extremely scared and felt vulnerable when I met my advisor for the first time. I was scared because I did not know what I had gotten myself into, and I felt inferior because my advisor, Dr. Middlestadt, is an expert in what she does. My field of study is health behavior and although I have a master’s degree in nutritional sciences, I quickly came to the realization that even though these two fields were related, they had different approaches. One of the things I love about doing my Ph.D. is having a mentor who pushes me to my limits and makes me think critically when taking appropriate actions that are essential to my progress as a student.
Start Your Research as Early as You Can
After two months of being in the Ph.D. program, I remember sitting in my apartment and asking myself, “Where should I start?” The words of my advisor immediately came to my mind: “Just start and try!” I believe that was a turning point in my life when I finally realized that any kind of research study is not perfect, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Even if the idea might seem abstract in your mind, work on it, develop the idea, and implement it. I began collecting pilot data in the spring of 2016 and that summer, I was confident enough to go into the field and work on my study. I am currently analyzing my data and planning to take my qualifying exams in the next few months.
Engage in Opportunities Outside of Your School
Do not limit your knowledge to the realm of the school you are studying at and volunteer in your community. It took some time for me to network outside of school, but I eventually found the right opportunities. Talking to my professors and getting advice from the Office of Career Services helped me tremendously in networking with other people. Putting your knowledge and skills to practice in a real-world setting is a must in the health behavior field. Understanding health issues from the public’s perspective is eye-opening. Moreover, I was able to work with a multi-disciplinary team and learn from the rich experiences of my team members.
Stay in Touch With Friends and Family
I teach stress prevention to college students and one of the things I regularly preach and apply to my life is to nurture the relationships that matter. As an international student, no matter how busy I am, I always dedicate time to talk to my parents at least one to two hours every week. I am constantly in contact with my siblings and my best friend, Natacha. These people may be far in terms of distance, but not by heart. Aside from my family, I have a few close friends in Bloomington who I meet with and talk to on a regular basis. For example, my dear friend Debbie gives me the same kind of advice my mom would, and if I need help or find myself in a difficult situation, I know I can reach out to her.
Find and Maintain Hobbies you Enjoy
People who live in Bloomington can vouch for the harsh winter. One of the things I love doing is knitting and I keep myself occupied with other projects to stay warm. I try to exercise as much as I can and I enjoy gardening in the summer. I also spend a significant portion of my time cooking meals that remind me of my home country and my family. Being far from your country does not mean you cannot enjoy its flavors and spices!
One of the most important decisions I made in my life was to pursue my Ph.D. and I do not regret it. I have had a productive journey and I know the skills and knowledge I am acquiring now will remain with me for the rest of my life. Being a doctoral student is a lot of hard work, but it is totally worth it!