How many times did the questions come to my mind: Why am I doing a PhD? Why have I embarked on this journey of constant challenges? Why have I allowed computer monitors, MS Word files, and printed papers to become such a big part of my life? Why?
I am sure I am not the only person who asked this question at some stage during a PhD journey. Originally from Bangladesh, I was encouraged by my family and teachers to pursue a PhD abroad.
I had a fair idea of what I wanted to do when I was applying to the PhD programme.
With the aim to be a researcher on language education, I set out to study the PhD programme at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. A PhD is the crowning achievement in academia. On top of that, if a PhD is achieved from a top-ranked university, the achievement reaches the pinnacle of success. However, the road towards the finishing line proved to be a strenuous climb of resilience and perseverance.
Before I embarked on the PhD journey, I knew that it would not be relaxed. However, I could not realise that the journey would require a Herculean effort! Since I started, I had to bottle up my personal life and emotions to carry out the journey. Sometimes, it seemed to be a journey of self-inflicted torture! At one point, after taking the journey, I plunged into the despair of the miseries related to my health condition.
I started thinking that a PhD must not appear more important than life! So, I wanted to quit! However, the power of self-motivation and the dream from my father allowed me to have the luxury of hope. I am indebted to my father exceptionally. My indomitable willpower also gave me the passionate hook to pursue the PhD journey until the last.
On the eve of undertaking the journey of the PhD, a separation occurred. I said adieu to my home country to pursue the journey in New Zealand. I also said adieu to my parents, wife, sisters, brother, friends, and well-wishers but the bond of love remained in distance. It was really hard for me to distance myself from my seven-month-old son. It was one of the rarest moments that shed melancholy upon me and left me in a lamentable situation. Nonetheless, my son has been a source of inspiration throughout the arduous journey.
To achieve a PhD degree, I started coping with the prevalent context in New Zealand amidst multiple academic and non-academic challenges. As an international student, life at UC and New Zealand has been an eye-opening experience for me. There is actually a wide range of activities to do both on-campus and off-campus. There is always somewhere to go or something new to try.
During my PhD journey, I found a group of enthusiastic researchers who helped me consolidate my thoughts into an action plan. They helped me rewire my burned-out brain! Often, long and unpredictable work hours led to burnout and frustration. Changes in eating and exercising habits, social withdrawal, sleep disorders, and anxiety were most challenging for me during the journey.
I also faced outward challenges and a heap of hurdles. For instance, living in the presence of low temperature, facing the challenge to make a change to my supervisory team, readjusting myself to the relocation of study space repeatedly for the change of campus, surviving the Christchurch-shootings without any physical injury but mental agony, and losing my grandparents in the final phase of my thesis writing. Nonetheless, I propelled myself through the twist and turns of the journey until I nailed it!
Despite all the ups and downs, I embraced the challenge ̶ to get out of my comfort zone, to transform and create a better version of myself. After finishing the PhD journey, I now understand that doing a PhD is all about having a passion for learning and figuring things out; being determined, consistent, and focused; and taking good care of oneself during the entire journey.
The journey of a PhD is like playing roulette. So, one needs to be firm and focused to finish such a journey. One has to have stubborn resistance and refusal to accept defeat. One has to believe that however good or bad a situation is, it will change over time. Therefore, the journey of a PhD will also be over at some point. Finally, one has to always bear in mind one of the proverbial quotes of Ulysses—“ I’ll follow knowledge like a sinking star”. Looking back now, I wish I could have done a few things differently!
Overall, getting a PhD is a challenging experience, both personally and academically.
The writer is a researcher on language education and Assistant Professor of English at the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, Bangladesh.