Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Abigail Phillips.
I often get, quite naturally, the question, “So, what made you decide to get your PhD?” I always feel a bit sheepish when I offer my response, “Well, I’ve always known I would.” I should have an intelligent and eloquent explanation for such a major, life-altering decision. But I don’t. However, what I do have is a somewhat intelligent and kinda eloquent explanation for my decision to leave my job as a public librarian and become a doctoral student in Information Studies.
After working in public library for six years, two as a library assistant and four as a professional librarian, I left the practitioner world behind last fall to join the PhD program in Information Studies at Florida State University (FSU). I have yet to regret this decision. My experiences in researching, writing, and teaching over the past year have erased any doubts I may have had during those first few months of my doctoral studies. This feeling of rightness and certainty is a rare experience for me.
So, how do you, dear reader, know if you really want to get a PhD? If you are working as a public librarian or school media specialist, how do you know if academia is a good fit for you? What follows are some suggestions, tips, and advice from an ex-librarian turned academic for those thinking about entering a PhD program. Although my focus in this post is on potential doctoral students in Information Studies, this advice can be applied to any doctoral program.
Look really hard at your reasons for wanting to begin a doctoral program.
Ask yourself why you want to take on the massive workload and never-ending stress of working towards a PhD. The benefits of the extra education are few: slightly higher income, flexible hours, some travel, and a fancy pants title. If you aren’t passionate and excited by research, writing, and teaching, then you should reevaluate your intentions. The work is hard, the hours are long, and students are demanding. But if you’re like me and get weirdly excited by topics like information behaviors of young adults, research design, and education for future librarians, then welcome, future doctoral student! It’s worth it.
Librarian, do your research!
We are librarians. Do what you do best – investigate Information Studies programs out there. You want to know as much as possible about these programs to find the right fit for you. Contact the faculty members where you received your MLIS. Explain why you want to pursue a PhD, what you plan on researching, and ask them for advice (and to be references for your application!). Realistic, honest advice from people who have completed doctoral work is greatly needed as you figure out where to apply or if you even should apply. You don’t want to waste time or money applying to schools that don’t support your research interests or career goals.
Acknowledge that you will have to make sacrifices.
I’ve given up a lot for my PhD (and I’ve only just finished my 1st year!) – a secure, well-paying job, free time, money, and relationships. How comfortable are you at giving up these things? It’s hard to leave a job you love, even harder to give up the money. It will be several years before you make that amount money again. If you are lucky enough to have an assistantship that is probably the only money you’ll see for quite some time. The feeling of dread from knowing that you will someday be forced to pay back those student loans will become your friend/frienemy. On the upside, the other doctoral students in your program will be just as poor. Think of this as an opportunity to bond through complaining about money.
Know what you’re getting into.
Doctoral programs are completely different from undergraduate and even master’s level work. For doctoral students, free time is a rare and beautiful thing. The first year is hell. It’s better that this is made clear to potential doctoral students now. You must become an expert at time management if you want to have any sort of life outside of school. You can’t put off assignments until the night before like you could in undergraduate or masters studies. Nothing good will come of that type of approach to work. Realize that you can’t do everything and budget your time accordingly. Ask for help when you need it; give help when you can.
Have a support system in place before you begin.
Know the family members, partners, spouses, friends, etc. you can rely on to support you throughout the PhD process. You’ll need these people. Other doctoral students in your program, especially your cohort, are an excellent source for venting and moaning about all things doctoral. But remember not to always talk shop. It’s all too common for doctoral students to get together for drinks and only talk about research, committees, and workloads. You need a break from this type of thinking! Doctoral work has a tendency to become a fixed obsession in a doctoral student’s mind (at least for me). Occasionally, mentally step away from your work. If your fellow doctoral students only want to discuss information theory and committee selections, find people outside of academia to relax with. Like people who want to talk about music, art, philosophy, or cat videos.
The first year is hell.
Repetition is a wonderful thing. The first year of a doctoral program is really, really, really hard. You will be overwhelmed and stressed out. Many times during your first year you may wonder why you did this to yourself, how on earth you got into the program, and how anyone could possibly have seen any potential in you as a future researcher. There wasn’t a day that went by during my first year that I didn’t feel as if I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to be in the program. I constantly compared myself with other doctoral students and found myself seriously lacking. These feelings are completely normal! Repeat: these feelings are normal. Every doctoral student struggles with them. You’ve been accepted into the program for a reason. You’ll make it through and excel!
My advice/suggestions/tips are not meant to dissuade anyone from applying to a doctoral program. These are simply words of wisdom (sort of) from someone who has very recently been there and done that. Take from it what you will.
Anyone seriously considering a PhD in Information Studies?
Current doctoral students: Is there any advice you would give to future doctoral students? What was your first year like?
Soon-to-Be Doctoral Student Resources:
How to Make It Through the First Year of a PhD Program in One, Albeit Frazzled Piece
Graduate School Advice Series: 10 Things You Should Know Before Starting a PhD Program
PhD Program Success and Survival Tips
Abigail Phillips is a second year Ph.D. student in Information Studies at Florida State University. Her research and professional interests include social media, information behaviors of young adults, public libraries, library advocacy, and online learning. Before beginning her doctoral studies, Abigail worked as a public librarian in a rural library system in southwest Georgia. Abigail blogs about her research at abigailleighphillips.com. She can be found on twitter @abigailleigh and tumblr at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/abigaillphillips.