Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Progress of Research is related to the Mood and Psychology of a PhD Student

Evaluating Your State of Research Progress

Dear MPhil/PhD Students: Please evaluate the state of progress of your thesis research:
The mood of thesis research students directly corresponds to their progress status. If you are making continuous progress you would be positive, if you are not making progress or are missing the advising sessions then you would be pessimistic. Your pessimism and your disappointment and disillusionment will continue to increase with the time period that you have not been working. You can classify your mood from the following table:

Research Status of the MPhil/PhD Student
Mood/ Psychological  State
Perception of who is to be blamed or made the scapegoat
When you are working and making progress
Optimistic and energetic
Everyone is good
When you are working, but NOT making progress
I am good
Initial state of not working 
There are no issues. I will start to work next week
2nd stage of not working
I am having issues, but will overcome them soon and show progress
Not working for 4-6 months
Fear of being reprimanded.
Why the supervisor is angry all the time? He should be more understandable.
Not working for 6-11 months
Not only the supervisor but the office of graduate studies has problems
Not working for over 1 year
I think the supervisor, office of graduate studies as well as the university has problems.
Not working for 3 or more semesters
I think PhD is not worth the effort. All PhDs are crap

A quick completion of the MPhil/PhD is simple for those who are willing to put in the desired time and effort. The only reason why people are unable to complete their Thesis/Dissertation on time is that they are not willing to put in the required time and effort. Consequently their moods go from denial to guilty to fear to disillusionment to skepticism.

How many hours of work are required in a 3-Cr Hr Research Course 

You see students typically want to know the formula for passing a 3 credit hour research course without putting more than 50 hours (i.e. 15 sessions x 3 hours/session + 5 exam hours). That is, they typically want to just attend the classes and not study at home and not put in the additional home-work hours. This is not possible. For every, one hour spent in the class, a student must be prepared to put in at least 2 hours at home. That is, an additional 100 hours of home work. (This brings the total time to 100+50 = 150 hours) Only then he/she can pass the course.  

If you want to know the way to complete a 3 credit-hour research course by putting in less than the required 150 hours, then it is difficult for a supervisor to guide you. However, if you are willing to put in 150 hours for each 3-credit hour segment, then I can personally guide you to complete the requirements of the IS (3 credit hours) and in the same proportion MPhil Thesis (6 credit hours) or a PhD Disseration (30 credit hours) in a reasonable amount of time.

Please note that this formula of 3 Cr Hr course/semester means about 135-150 clock hours of work in a semester is a standard formula followed in taught courses typically by all recognized universities. Usually, the proportion is more for lab courses, research courses, project courses, clinical courses etc.

You have to make a decision. Whether you want to get a degree without working or you want to get the degree after working. If you want to get through without the requisite effort, then I can not help you. Go seek a third grade supervisor in a third grade university. 

Are You Making Steady Progress?

I have observed that not all students often make steady progress. Some seem to be not working regularly and are only working in short duration pulses. This is not the way to work on Thesis research.
  • Working for 30 hours in (say) a short duration of three days is NOT equal to working for 2 hours for 15 days. 
  • Small dozes of work administered on a regular basis are much better than short intensive dozes. 
  • You can't get better by drinking the entire bottle of cough syrup in one day or by taking the entire prescription of antibiotics for five-day course in one day. 
  • Thesis requires continuous dozes of efforts that need to be administered every 2nd day if not every day. 
  • You can compensate for long periods of inactivity by taking a few days leave and by working for 15 hours every day. 
  • Thesis requires as much if not more work thinking about the problem (arm-chair time) then work you do by sitting on your desk (desk-time). You must let the ideas that you have read sink in. They take time to sink and digest. When you have read a few papers, take some time out for reflection. Your mind needs to compare and evaluate the ideas with one another. Most of the time your mind does this activity when you are not sitting on your work desk but when you are walking, sitting idle, driving, traveling, or even sleeping. 
  • This is like a digestion process or a background process. Digestion of complex ideas requires time for the ideas to sink in and form associations with other ideas that are already present in your mind. You can compare this with operating system processes that work in the background and keep on monitoring the hardware resources, reclaiming resources from dormant processes and dormant files, doing the housekeeping, recovering cached memory etc. Similarly, your mind requires background processes to run and digest the new ideas.
  • Allocate some time every day. Allocate (say) half-hour at night before sleeping or more if you can. Or in morning or any other time that would be exclusively reserved for research. The point is that the allocated time for research need to be faithfully reserved and followed.
  • I have emphasized that you must allocate a definite period of time every day for research. It can either be early morning or late evening, or in afternoon. Whichever one suits you, you must allocate a time of day. Even if it is only half-hour to start with. Gradually as your interest will grow so would this time period also. You must make it a point to leave every thing aside and involve yourself in doing some thing related to the research.
  • Do some thing in this time related to research. You may start with very easy things. You can start out today by writing down the references of the papers that you have selected.
If you don't feel like reading a complex argument in the research paper, you may just go through the abstract, introduction or the conclusions and future work sections. If you don’t want to do that, then you may just start writing your bibliography. If not that why not start writing a summary of some research paper that you have read. If not that, then you may just write down what is coming to your mind about the topic. Even if this is a jumbled list of ideas, don't worry, you will be able to compile them later. May be you should just organize the papers according to different categories. Why not just start writing a glossary of the important terms that you are working on. In short, do any thing related to the research. Don't let the time go by without you having done some thing.

Finally, if you have NOT written what you have done today, you have NOT done anything. If you have not written you have not done any thing.

The good thing to note about students making progress is that:
  • They have sufficiently narrowed down their area of research. 
  • They have collected relevant papers. Although they still need to collect some more relevant papers. 
  • Papers that they have collected were research papers.
[Much of this material was first written in 2005 and distributed to research students as Guidelines for MS Research]

See Also:

What is PhD?
Why PhD is Difficult: 
Starting with your PhD
Reading Research and Writing your Research
Qualitative Learning from a PhD


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