You have to make a decision that you will complete your degree no matter what. You have to decide knowing or expecting that you will face some difficulty. Many students say that they expected graduate school to be tough but not this tough. If it was not as difficult as it really is a lot more students would be pursuing a PhD.
Recently I worked on a book chapter that looked at how Black women in STEM were successful in completing their degree. I am currently working on a journal article on PhD Attrition; it’s a qualitative study looking at non-completers. In interviewing both students who complete their degree and those who decide to give up, I find very little difference. Yes both groups of students find graduate school to be difficult. All students encounter hardships and difficulties. Some students have encountered:
- Difficulty with their advisor
- Death of an advisor, parent, or loved one
- Experiments not showing results
- No feedback from advisor
- Adviso too busy
- Advisor/faculty member says “you are not going to make it here”
- Child sickness
- Writing with Anxiety/depression, OCD
- Writing with an non-supportive spouse
- The advsisor goes on sabbatical or leaves the university
- The advisor changes the defense date at the last minute
- The advisor refuses to set a defense date
- The advisor is a bully
- The advisor is located in a different state
- Parent sickness
- Increased Job responsibilities
- Strong competitive classmates
What would you do if you encountered these situations. The reality of the grad school is that bad things happen to good people. The real difference I see between those who complete their PhD and those who don’t is the use of social networks. Those who completed their degree seem to understand that no one is an island. You need other people to survive this process. During the tough times students who completed their degree reached out to others for help. They looked to mentors, on-line blogs, friends, faculty, staff, and other students to talk, cry, share silent moments, run ideas by, or just relax.
To read about these successful women who completed their PhD check out the reference below.
Janet C. Rutledge, Wendy Y. Carter-Veale, Renetta G. Tull (2011), Chapter 9 Successful PHD Pathways to Advanced STEM Careers for Black Women, in Henry T. Frierson, William F. Tate (ed.) Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans’ Paths to STEM Fields (Diversity in Higher Education, Volume 11), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.165-209
Here is the link from the publisher: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/books.htm?chapterid=1949534&show=pdf