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A retenir

A PhD will make you realize that your limits are there to be blown up.

My journey to the PhD level is slowly coming to an end. My private PhD defense is scheduled on June 30th. I thought it would be a good idea to use my blog to reflect on the last 6 years of work.

I was inspired by Laurence Dessart’s blog, another PhD candidate I met at the Edinburgh University. Laurence holds also a blog where she uses to post advices and thoughts about her own PhD work.

Years of wandering

When I look back at the 6 years I’ve spent on this journey (two of which were dedicated to the PhD training) I realize that I’ve been highly unproductive at certain times.

Of course I was working in parallel and was trying to manage everything on my spare time. This was not easy. Many times I lost the faith; working alone is actually the most difficult part of the PhD. Self-motivation is not the easiest thing to do for an individual. You will always have better to do than doing your research : watching TV, sleeping, resting, …

You also have external factors that you can’t control : losing your PhD supervisor is one; illness, family problems, … the PhD takes so long a time that you can be certain to encounter some kind of hurdle. When you embark on a PhD at the age of 32 like I did, the probability is 1.

September 2014, the tipping point

For a reason I ignore, the post-Summer 2014 was the tipping point. When I came back from summer holiday (having done strictly nothing) I decided I had to finish my PhD in 2015. I mistakenly thought I had to write one more paper but I was wrong. I soon discovered after meeting the director of the Business school that I was wrong. Actually the rule of 3 papers holds only if you write them by yourself. I had three more papers to write actually, one of them alone. Eventually I ended up with 5 papers, 2 of them bearing only my name.

To achieve it I had to be disciplined; more disciplined that I had ever been. I started waking up at 4am each morning to draft my papers before going to work. And it worked. I had two papers drafted the same year, and the last one is currently checked by a proofreader.

Looking back at this period, I’ve one scene of a movie coming back to my mind : “Two for the money”.

When Al Pacino fakes a heart attack and is shouted at by Matthew McConaughey, he tells him:

There is no such thing as too far. You push everything as far as you can. You push, and you push, and you push until it’s not pushing back. And then you push some God damn’ more”

A PhD is exactly like this. When you start your PhD, you have no idea of what you’re capable of. You’ll soon realize that your limits are there to be blown up.

Self-confidence (and credibility ?) boosted

Besides the knowledge gained in a given (and relatively narrow) topic, the main advantage of the PhD is the self-confidence you’ll gain, which may translate into more credibility.

You will of course become an expert in your field (in my case in marketing, and more precisely in complaint management and customer satisfaction). That’s the aim of the PhD. But to reach this level of expertise you’ll have to learn a lot of other skills. That’s what I call the side effects. In my case I deepened my knowledge of qualitative research (my thanks here to David Silverman who has had a major influence on the data I collected), and learned quantitative skills. This is the technical side. But finding out your very topic is also a matter of reading a lot. I read (and printed) hundreds of papers in various disciplines : marketing of course, but also entrepreneurship, linguistics, operations management, psychology, you name it. That is in my mind the major benefit of the PhD. You acquire a very broad knowledge that you’ll be able to use in very different situations. This will definitely make the difference with others and I’m positive it may boost your credibility if you use it well.


Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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