Do you say ‘I do’?

By Moulik Zaveri, PhD

Moulik has a PhD in Marketing from RMIT University, Australia and has been a marketing lecturer at RMIT Vietnam since 2010. He’s about to embark on his next big undertaking – marriage! 

If you are reading this page it is very likely that you are either pursuing a PhD or planning to enrol in one, or you are just a curious reader in general. In any case, I will try to keep this article generic and informative for all types of audiences. I have recently completed a PhD in Marketing from RMIT University, Australia. When I was in my initial stages of considering to enrol in a PhD, I had many unanswered questions. I wondered what the process was, whether I was qualified enough, whether I had enough skills, how I should choose the topic, how would I find a supervisor, the university and plenty of other questions that you, right now, might be seeking answers to as well.  I will try to answer a few of them in this post.

It is often said by many PhD candidates that enrolling in, and more importantly, completing a PhD is like being in a relationship or marriage. It requires commitment; a very unwavering one. If there is anything that I can confirm now, it is that it requires strong commitment and discipline. Just like in a relationship, undertaking a PhD has its own moments when you feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, lonely, lost, and the feeling of that invisible weight on your head. No wonder you find the majority of PhD candidates asking one common question, “When is this going to end?”. The answer is, “Soon”, as long as you stay committed. I might be exaggerating here a bit, so don’t get me wrong, there will be times during the candidature when you will feel alleviated, delighted, surprised, and even proud of yourself when things go just the way you want them to or hidden talents in reading, writing, and critical thinking come to life.  It’s a bag of mixed candies; some sour and some sweet. The following things should be considered before you say, “I Do!”

Dating a topic

Based on my experience, this is by far the most important aspect of your candidature which will decide how committed you stay and how soon you complete your PhD. For some, this could be like a dating period, when you don’t know who you are looking for and how committed you’ll stay. For others it could be more like a childhood love when you have already found someone and decided to stay committed forever. Nevertheless, if you are still in the dating game, choose the topic you are passionate about. It is that passion which will not let you say, “I give up!”. Finding the right topic or knowing what you are passionate about can be overwhelming for some. For starters, reflect on things that you like in general; is it business, environment, technology, culture, education, or psychology? If you already know this or have past experience in any of these then, you are already at an advantage; you have found someone to say, “I do!” Once you know what area you are interested in, do some research in that area and find out where the recent literature is progressing. One of the ways to save time and get straight to the topic is to find recent literature reviews published in that area, especially the future research directions that are suggested by the authorities. In general, all journal articles have future research directions and this is what you can look at during the initial stage. The time taken in choosing the topic varies from weeks to months. It took me around 3 months.

It’s time to propose

Once you have found someone to say, “I do!”, its time to propose. Luckily, you won’t be required to fork out thousands of dollars for the ring or think of that unique and most memorable and foolishly romantic idea.The audience that you’ll be proposing to requires no flowers, rings, or champagne but rather a paper with well-thought out and clearly expressed ideas. Most of the universities require you to submit a research proposal as a part of the admission application in addition to finding a supervisor. The requirement around the length and depth of the research proposal varies vastly depending on universities. Some universities require a three page proposal whereas others might require a 30 page proposal. I would suggest something longer and deeper as a better choice, so you can adjust the size based on the requirement of each university you are applying to. I submitted a 30 page proposal. Research proposals usually include research objectives and aims, an introduction, a literature review, identified gaps in the literature, suggested research methodology, time frames and, in some cases, budget. The research proposal is usually the first written document that your prospective supervisor is going to read. So ensure that it’s well proof-read and free of grammatical and spelling errors. Also, don’t get too attached with your research proposal, it is highly likely that you might end up doing a PhD in something completely different than your proposal topic (more on this in my next blog post). Once you have your research proposal in place, you are ready to search and apply for a supervisor and admission into the candidature.

Finding your maid of honour or best man

From stag’s (bucks) or hen’s night to the wedding your best man or maid of honour will ensure everything goes smoothly. Similarly, you’ll need a best (wo)man for your candidature; your supervisor! He/She plays a very important role in giving you directions and mentoring you all the way until you complete your candidature. Finding a supervisor is a bit tricky and could be cumbersome, so set your expectations accordingly. The process for applying into a PhD program varies greatly across universities and countries. However, most of the universities require you to have confirmed a supervisor before you submit your admission application. Some universities have research centres where you send your proposal in and then, based on your topic, the staff will send out your proposal to relevant supervisors – this is the best option. Other universities don’t have a clearly defined process or research centres, so in that case you’ll have do your own research to find out the research interests of staff as listed on universities website. If you come across someone who has similar research interests as you then send them an introductory email with your research proposal abstract of around 200 words to find out if they would be interested in supervising your candidature. To give you an idea, I sent around 80 emails to various universities in many countries. I heard back from around 80% of them, some were unavailable, some were interested and some declined.

So here are some important points to remember:

  • follow your passion and choose a topic accordingly
  • find out what current literature is saying about your passion
  • save time by looking at ‘future research directions’ in literature reviews
  • submit a substantial research proposal – include: objective, aims, introduction, literature review, gaps in literature, methodology, time frame and budget
  • find and confirm a supervisor – be prepared to do all the leg work
  • when looking for a supervisor, play the numbers game – look far and wide

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6 responses to “Do you say ‘I do’?”

  1. Cheryl DeBrot-Erwin says :

    Dear Dr. Zaveri, I think you’re analogy of pursuing a Ph.D. to marriage is nothing short of brilliant! I am a second year Ph.D. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I think the most important thing to remember whether it be pursuing a degree, being married, being a parent, etc. or life in general is that the joy is in the journey.

    • Moulik Zaveri says :

      Dear Cheryl, couldn’t agree more- joy is indeed in the journey. I felt that a lot during my candidature, especially towards the end. All the best for your PhD!!

  2. Fiona_Wiebusch says :

    Thanks for sharing these terrific insights, Moulik. I’m still playing the dating game but am feeling more confident to commit after reading this. Congratulations on surviving your first ‘marriage’ and all the best for the next!

    • Moulik Zaveri says :

      Thanks Fiona, hope you find something to say ‘I do’ to very soon. Conferences are also good during the dating period. All the best!

  3. Erik Young says :

    I love feedback in this regard here Moulik. I’ve been dancing around the prospect of doing a PhD for awhile and though I have my moments of doubt, looking forward, I couldn’t imagine doing anything besides teaching. Do you have any advice for PhD candidates in terms of employment or prospects after getting out of school? Being totally pragmatic, I’d like to see the fruits of my labor once “marriage” is over.

    • Moulik Zaveri says :

      Erik, this is the question I have asked many times to myself and I am sure many candidates have too.There’s no straight forward answer to this one (at least for me). I chose to do PhD for its symbolical meaning, I see PhD as a club of academics who pursue and extend theoretical base of their respective subject matter. It is the membership to this club that I personally saw as a ‘fruit’ of my labor. From a practical point of view, having a PhD does increase mobility and employment prospects in teaching and research positions at universities. I am not sure which country you are from but universities are increasingly hiring PhDs even for teaching positions. Publications are still seen as currency in academic positions for promotions so a PhD may get you into a good university as a teacher but for further progress you may be expected to publish on ongoing basis. If your research is related to business or science you may also find better employment opportunities in industry (which usually pays more than academic positions).

      Hope this helps, happy to discuss more if required.

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