4 things you need to have before graduate from PhD

The journey of doing a PhD is never just about research. There are so many stuffs that you want to achieve within the four years candidature (from the Australian system). You want to get prepared for the job market. You want to have an established track record of publication. You want to have as many teaching experience as you can. And lastly, you want to have enough money to feed yourself.

Recently, I spoke to a few PhD students. After tasting a tiny bit of the busy life of academics, they all expressed their concerns of being unprepared for the future. If they have more time for candidature, this may be better. The disadvantage of the Australian/UK thesis system compare with the US structure is clear.

So, PhD students here need to be strategic. Hopefully this article can give you some ideas of what you need to have by the end of your four years candidature. Disclaimer: everybody’s PhD experience is different. Mine can be quite different to yours. It is only suitable for people who is interested in pursuing an academic career. So please only treat my advice as a ‘reference’ only.

A concrete Research plan

It is quite surprised that many students do not have a future research plan. Indeed, you should treat your thesis as your baby and focus on writing it. But by the end of your research, you should have a better idea of what to exclude in your dissertation and leave it for future research.

That says, you need to have a research plan when you graduate. For example, how can you develop another research project based on your thesis. It is very unlikely that you can research on something that is completely new – 99% of the case is you develop your idea based on previous studies.

If possible, you may want to seek collaborators from conferences, seminars. That can help you to speed up your publication.

A clear publication plan

Speaking on publication, I did suggest students not to publish their thesis during their candidature. Though in the Australian higher education system, while employers expect PhD graduates to have a track record.

It is unlikely for freshly graduated Australian PhDs to have more than three peer-reviewed articles being published prior to their first job. Therefore, in order to be more strategic, you should plan ahead before you complete your PhD. For example, should your thesis publish into books or research articles? If it turns into a book, which publisher you should approach? If it turns into articles, which journals you plan to submit?

You better to have a clear answer to these questions when you revise your thesis.

Some teaching experiences

By the end of the candidatures, most of you should have plenty of teaching experiences. They are mostly tutoring experiences. They can at least help you to find some casual jobs to feed yourself when searching for a full-time job.

However, if you want to be more competitive, you may want to ask for guest lecturing opportunities, or even coordinating an entire subject. University employers always love someone who can teach.

The most efficient strategy that I find it useful is to ask the subject convenors that you work for. Because you are already teaching the subject, you should be more familiar with the content. This will help you better to prepare a guest lecture.

It is an entirely different story of how to prepare a lecture. But one thing for sure: it is not easy for the first time, and you need to invest some significant time in your first time. The earlier you start lecturing, the less painful you will be.

An open mind

Finally, I find that many candidatures are so into pursuing their career in academia. ‘If I cannot get a job in uni, I don’t know what to do’. However, life is cruel. Some people are lucky and find their first faculty position after their completion, but most people are like me – it took me two years to get a post-doctoral position.

People should expect disappointment. More accurately speaking, you should plan for alternatives. There are so many other career choices than lecturers. In fact, research shows many have left university and found a better job.

So my final advice to all PhD students is: to have a open mind. It is never the end of the world if you cannot find a job in universities.

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