Book Review: The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory

I recently read The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory by Eva O. L. Lantsoght. I will share some useful suggestions from the book and tell you something about my own experience.

The author is a university professor and a blogger who runs Phd Talk. She writes a lot about the Ph.D. during the years and the book can be viewed as a systematic summary of her ideas. Her own background also makes the book more reliable as she shares her experiences and makes suggestions based on them in the book.

The book is a guide to success in a Ph.D. program. The book can be useful for a current Ph.D. student, students considering a Ph.D. in the future, professors teaching a research course for Ph.D., and Ph.D. supervisors. The book is much like a textbook -- I focus on the book when I reading and take notes just as I am taking some course -- and I believe if you treat it like that, you will gain a lot.

The book is organized in chronological order. In the beginning, you will learn to get yourself familiar with the new environment. After that, the author teaches you to make a plan for the entire Ph.D. program, each year, each semester, each month, and each day. Then, you will learn the skills of making experiments and academic writing. After the chapter of making research, you will learn to communicate as a researcher in the 21 century through the internet. The author also shows you the ways to deal with a conference paper and a journal paper. The second last chapter talks about the dissertation. Finally, you will learn to start a new life after the Ph.D. program.

The three most important things which stood out to me are making plans, following them, and improving the English writing skills. In each chapter, you can find the author tells you to make a plan for something: when writing a paper, you should make a writing plan; when performing experiments, you should make an experiment plan; and what if your ultimate goal is to defend your dissertation? Bingo, you need to make a long-term plan for the entire Ph.D. program. The second point is to stick to your plan. The author gives some useful suggestions: leave some spare time for an emergency in your plan; use the time slot to organize your time; keep healthy. Last but not the least, you need to keep practicing your English writing. The author encourages you to write some paper review or experiment reports at the beginning for practice, and leave some time for writing every day (2 hours will be ideal).

I started my Ph.D. program in 2019 and it has been one year. I did not do very well in the last year and that is the reason why I started to read this book. Through the reading, I found I previously no nearly nothing real about Ph.D. life. I and many other students like me, who did pretty good in the bachelor or master program, continue pursuing higher-level education because of the inertia with some illusions in our minds. We should all read these books earlier- before we come to the new city.

This book gave me practical advice, such as practicing English writing, learning to make plans, and so on. But the most important thing I learned from the book is how difficult this trajectory can be. It is not a challenge you can pass by with your smartness. It is more like a marathon, some extreme sport, or 'The Thorny Road of Honour'. The challenges are everywhere. What's even worse, you need to get over these mostly by yourself. In China, we have a motto called 'Shendu', which means take care when you are alone doing something. That is what exactly a Ph.D. student needs.

As a Ph.D. student, we deserve all of these. But why? you should remember--just as the author repeated in the book-- the ability to do research is an intellectual privilege for the lucky few.

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