Monday 29th July, 2019
The Doctoral Induction is the first, official function for new PhD students here at AUT. To get to that point, students must have been accepted into a doctoral program and found one or more supervisors to accompany them on their journey.
Two years ago, I was invited to be one of the guest speakers at a Doctoral Induction run by Professor Marion Jones and Annalise Davidson. They are both wonderful mentors for post-graduate students here and I have had the privilege of getting to know them both during my time here.
Professor Jones and I traded jokes during the presentation and unfortunately, I preempted a couple of her punch-lines and ruined her delivery. She is so forgiving.
However, I came away thinking that, inside me, there was really a different Doctoral Induction speech that I should have delivered. So here it is, in hindsight, two years on…
A Doctorate. It’s what you’re here to start.
Unfortunately, it’s only going to add five extra letters (not counting punctuation) to your title and to your business card:
D r. P h D.
Not very much visible evidence of what for you will have been through to get it, is it? Especially since it will probably be the most strenuous, the hardest journey you have undertaken.
It will be exhilarating. I hope there are days when your coffee tastes like nectar, when strangers on campus make you smile and that you find things here that touch your soul. I hope that for most of the time, your tears will be ones of joy, for things that went so well they moved you. When all the toys you are playing with in your research have behaved themselves, when all your columns of figures add up.
But there will be lots of hard times.
I pray that by the end, you will have found out why you did it. You might not know it now, and that’s OK. But if you want to rise out of your lowest points, and yes, you will find yourself in deeper pits than you can imagine, if you want to come out of those times sane, you are going to have to know the answer to the question “Why the _____ am I doing this to myself ?” You can decide what words you will put in the blank space. It will probably depend on how deep your current hole is…
And there will be many mountains. The first mountain is your PGR9 Confirmation of Candidature. It’s pretty grueling. More grueling than you can imagine at the moment, but you got this far. You’ll get through it.
Rejection. Being told you got that bit wrong. Go back, do it over, sometimes for months.
Being wrong, that’s OK too. Learning what to fix and what to defend that you know is already right is a skill you will need to learn. Learning not to lash out when criticized. Remember, your supervisor does not mean it personally. They are not criticizing you, the person; they are critiquing your work. You might feel frustrated and hurt, tired of slogging away at something. Feeling that way, it’s OK. Learn to accept criticism when it comes as an act of love by supervisors and friends, the people who care about you. You might like to remember a Scripture that I hold onto:
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:6
Actually, the whole of that verse is worth reading in context:
“The kisses of an enemy may be profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
Beware of the wolves. And yes, there are wolves out there. They howl. They don’t care about you. They have a myriad of agendas for knocking you down. They are the grumblers and critics who will criticize you for no obvious reason. Sometimes, it will hurt profoundly and you won’t know why it hurts.
The wolves often misunderstand or disagree with your approaches. They are often people who have no authority or jurisdiction over your studies. It will make no sense but you have to learn to hold back, think and determine the difference between friend and foe.
Remember, always, that bullying, of any sort for any reason is totally unacceptable at AUT. It’s not our way. You signed up to a Postgraduate Research Agreement (or you will soon). That spells out steps you can take to resolve conflicts but remember, there is always help available, especially from the staff at the Postgraduate Research Office like Annalise. Don’t fight problems like this alone – you don’t have to.
Oh, the places you will go to. In 2017, AUT sent me to the Luleå University of Technology near the very top of Sweden for a month. Deep in the snow there, I spent time working among the most amazing researchers. That time changed me, focused me in new ways, helping me to get ready for my PGR9 Confirmation of Candidature. You need to seek out and seize opportunities like that. They can be a part of your doctoral journey, part of what makes AUT such a wonderful place.
I would like to leave you with two thoughts, two things that I have had to learn here.
Learn the rhythm of your supervisor. Your doctoral supervisor will become your most important advocate and sometimes, your best friend, during your journey. I have three and I cherish them all. They are the wisest people I know and I have learnt to trust their judgement implicitly.
I never want to make their job harder than it is, so I have learnt each of their distinct daily rhythms. My first supervisor, Associate Professor Roopak Sinha, loves to come in early and write, undisturbed. I usually arrive in our laboratory long before him but when he comes in, I wave from my desk but seldom talk to him. He cherishes three or four uninterrupted hours each morning before all the hassles that go with being a senior academic here start knocking on his door. I leave him alone and respect his time each morning.
Learn to hustle appropriately. All the encouraging lines in the picture below kind of make sense, but the one in purple confused me initially, took me some time to get right.
Sometimes, despite what other people say, you know you are right. Learn how to hustle appropriately to get your ideas across in very polite but persuasive ways. To stand your ground and own your own research. That will be a huge turning point. Only you can deliver your PGR9, write your thesis and stand alone at your Doctoral Defense. You have to own your own research to get to that point. But you have got to do it with respect and dignity.
They don’t call the final act of this journey a “Doctoral Defense” for nothing. Along the way, you will have to learn to defend your research, to be able to justify what you believe. And if you have a faith, it will be stretched but I promise you, it will be strengthened. And that’s OK, that’s good. We grow strong by being tested, and sometimes it feels like that is happening all the time. It may feel like you are forever rewriting, never just writing. That’s OK.
By the end of your journey, I am sure you will find out why you did this. And it will feel delicious.
Thank you for your time.