Success is a process of continually seeking answers to new questions

John Templeton

I am a notorious planner. I like structure. I like to plan. I need to plan. (In my defence, I just want to say that whilst I like/need to plan, that doesn’t, of itself, suggest that I am inflexible!)

When I first started thinking about doing a PhD, ironically, I researched the poo out of it. The ‘what to know about doing a PhD’, ‘how does a PhD work’, ‘what is the structure of a PhD’ and ’10 reasons not to do a PhD’. You name the search terms, chances are I’ve entered them in my browser too. I wanted to know what I could so I could best prepare myself for it. I even tried to find community groups on Facebook and LinkedIn for aspiring PhD students or early career post-doc researchers to then reach out to them.

At the end of the day, I’m a lawyer, It’s hardly surprising that I would want to identify and research the elements, find my authorities for said elements to understand the meaning and interpretation of same and set out a brief as to how best to approach said project, all in readiness for advocacy my best case for a great result.

Initially, I found it really difficult to get my head around it all. I decided to just go knee deep and send an unsolicited, somewhat fan-girl flavoured, email to the people who I respected and admired in my field of interest. I am completely chuffed to now say those same people are my supervisors (#chuffed).

Reaching out was pretty out there for this little introvert, but geez it paid off. I got the insight that I was needing to get some concept right in my mind about how things worked in the world of research. I was able to float ideas and get guidance that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Through that, I also got insight into what support was available once I got enroled.

With the help of seasoned and incredibly smart geniuses, I was able to form an initial idea of a research question, sub-questions, and really articulate the purpose of my research and what questions I wanted to attempt to answer. I was able to troubleshoot ideas of how I might actually undertake such research, what form it would take, and, honestly and simply, what my proposed PhD would look like. This was so incredibly empowering. What I didn’t realise then, but I do now, was that this very process helped me sanity-check my interest in doing the PhD at all. It gave me a glimpse into what it was all aout and made me question whether I had the passion, the interest, the stamina to devote a considerable amount of time, energy and intellectual power towards this project.

I spent about 3-4 years comtemplating my research and proposed PhD. That may seem like a long time, but I am really pleased I did. In addition to all of the above benefits I got from that process, what I also achieved was comfort that I found this topic so interesting that I was still interested (if not more interested!) 4 years later! Given most people sharing experiences and advice for prospective PhD’ers say that you should have a topic that you really love and are interested in to enable you to stand the test of time, I’m pretty happy with that!

Once I got through that initial stage, and after receiving encouragement that I was ready to go and enrol (insert freak out moment here!), I got myself enrolled. In addition to all the support I had received with the amazing help of my [now] supervisors, what I didn’t expect was this feeling that when I received my enrolment letter and login details, a viel lifted over all this further information, people and communities that are there to support higher research degree students and candidates. It truly was inspiring. It felt like a community of likeminded researchers that were all there for the same reason; to research and contribute to field of study in a meaningful way.

Oh and the library liaisons and great university support groups. Wow. I’ve since met with my library liaison and #doublewow. The super impressive knowledge, intellect, passion for their craft and kindness in all things they do, it’s just really amazing to see and exciting to be a part of this crazy-amazing-nerd world.

It was really kind of beautiful. I’d even go as far to say that it felt like I had walked through the cupboard in Narnia!

It’s also one of the reasons I decided to chronicle my PhD work a little so that others who are like I was, can get a little insight into my experience. It is absolutely my experience and I certainly cannot speak for everyone. I do hope, however, it helps you gain the confidence and comfort to say “You know what? I’m going to do it!”.

So, my advice is that if you have questions, you’re curious, reach out to those of who you follow in your field or work. You don’t have to do this part on your own. If you’re like me and you have worked in practice and not unddertaken research on a large scale, chances are that research world is an unknown quantity. All the more reason to just ‘get amongst it’ and get out of that comfort zone and start asking questions from the comfort of your keyboard (if necessary). What’s the worst that could happen? Those that you reach out say they can’t help, or don’t have the capacity to help, they don’t respond. This kind of response doesn’t take anything away from you. But just imagine if they responded…

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