Musings from my PhD Confirmation

Today, I was confirmed as a PhD candidate. At last, I am officially (no longer provisionally) a PhD candidate! (yay!) after nine months of hard work. It was also nine months of learning. Intense learning, I may say. Some thoughts:

  1. I started out thinking I knew what I wanted to know. But as I went along — after literally hundreds (or thousands, no?) of journals skimmed through and read — I realised I had to know it more. Doing a PhD is, in itself, a good exercise of humility. It made me realise how much of the world I do not know, how much there is to know, and how much of it is beyond my capacity to know. I now know, by heart, that it is impossible to know everything about the topic I am investigating, and I am not here to save the world. I am just doing a PhD. I just hope it will make a difference, but realistically, I expect it will not change the world.
  2. They say the PhD is a lonely journey. To a certain extent, it is. You work on it alone. You read the articles alone. You write the manuscripts alone. But it does not necessarily have to be a lonely journey. It helped that I have a community of fellow PhD students who, more or less, have the same struggle. Misery loves company, they say.  Knowing that there are others around you who have more or less the same experience as you have makes the burden more light, and the journey less lonely.
  3. Never underestimate the relationship that you have with your supervisors, especially your main supervisor.  I am so lucky to have found a main supervisor who provides an excellent balance of challenge and support on what I do, and who believes in my capacity more than I believe in myself. Takeaway: choose your supervisors wisely.
  4. Sometime ago, I read this somewhere: “it takes a village to make a thesis,” which is a play on “it takes a village to raise a child.” Truly, make no mistake of thinking that it is only you building that thesis (unless you really are alone in doing that — abandoned by the rest of the world). Initially, I thought it was just me. But no. This thesis is, and ideally is, my work with plenty of help from my supervisors and other helpful friends.
  5. It is hard work. Period. Some people may be talented enough to work “less hard” than others, but generally, PhD is hard work. As such, it is usually coupled with frustration. I have had months when I felt like a total loser, when I felt like I was not progressing and that I am failing myself. But I guess most PhD students go through that phase — that “what am I doing with my life” phase, and that eventually, you will get that “I am doing something awesome with my life” answer.

I am lightyears away from that degree, but it is always comforting to know that I am a step closer to it. The last nine months were an intense period of learning. I know the next two or so years will be equally challenging, but I am ready for it — with a (little) help from my friends.

One Ring to Finish PhD

As a PhD student in the middle of Middle Earth, I thought I would get myself a replica of the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, as a PhD commitment ring. The ring has the following inscription:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

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One Ring to rule them all. A rule is a line gauge (also called “ruler”), a device that measures distance or length. The PhD journey starts with knowing what you want to measure and how you can measure them. Measure them (the variables), all of them.

One Ring to find them. This is, of course, data gathering. I will find them (my data).

One Ring to bring them all. After finding your data, you have to bring them all (together) — data collation, analysis, and write up.

…and in the darkness bind them. Of course, this refers to the final stage: the binding of the dissertation.

The One Ring captures the entire PhD journey. So yep, I am getting myself one.

NZPsS Conference 2016

I recently presented a paper, Social Support among Disaster First Responders: A Review of Literature, which I did with my PhD supervisory team: Dr Ian de Terte (Massey University, Wellington), Prof. Krzysztof Kaniasty (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, USA), and Prof. Christine Stephens (Massey University, Palmerston North), at the New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPsS) Annual Conference at Massey University, Wellington last 1-4 September 2016.

Social support is considered one of the key components of psychosocial recovery after disasters. Most studies, however, focus on the survivors, and we wanted to know what the literature says about social support in those who help the disaster survivors. Interestingly, very few studies explicitly investigated this area, and a considerable number of these studies also had methodological issues on top of the inherent issues surrounding disaster mental health research, and disaster research as a whole. These issues include having no comparison or pre-disaster data, the problem of isolating effects of social support variables, and the use of non-standardised measures.

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There is also the lack of research on received social support. Majority of the studies measured perceived social support. From an interventionist perspective, we argue that although it is important to know appraisals of the quality and availability of support (perceived support), what we can control and provide is the actual support (received support); hence, it is important to know the effectiveness of received social support and how it relates to psychosocial consequences.

This was my first conference presentation in New Zealand and it did not disappoint. It had some of the most interesting presentations and engaging discussions that I have listened to thus far.

A copy of the presentation slides may be downloaded here: [pdf]

Social Support Researcher