Every journey begins with the first step. But too many journeys end before the last one. Tragic.
That is the unfortunate reality for many postgrad students as well. According to a recent article in Inside HigherEd, as many as 37% of doctoral students never receive their degree. Somewhere between the first and last steps, they falter. Tragic.
I’ve recently written a couple of posts on the difficulties of the academic job market. (See How Bad Is the Job Market for PhDs? and More Bad News on the Ph.D. Job Market.) But I know that many will pursue postgrad programs anyway. And, to be honest, I can’t blame them. That’s precisely what I did. I knew the risks. And I took the blue pill anyway.
I’ve never regretted it.
Not for one moment.
But if you’re going to travel down that road, make sure you set yourself up to finish well. I’ve heard some people compare the doctoral process to Ahab chasing Moby Dick. The problem with that analogy? Ahab dies in the end.
And the Inside HigherEd article points out that one major factor that contributes to postgrad burnout is lack of support. Every postgrad faces a number of critical challenges (see 6 Challenges Every Postgrad Faces). So you’re going to need plenty of support if you’re going to avoid the discouragement and burnout that plagues so many postgrads. And the article specifically recommends getting support in two areas:
- Psychological Support
- Research & Writing Support
As long as “psychological” here is understood broadly enough to include things like emotional and spiritual support as well, that’s not a bad summary of two critical areas that you’ll probably need some help with during your program. And, unfortunately, many doctoral programs fail to provide support in precisely these areas. So you may need to be proactive in finding this support outside your department.
Don’t wait for things to get bad. The time to find help is before the whale bites off your leg.