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I always had my goal in sight: the doctoral thesis as a journey of discovery

by Jenna Voss

How does it feel to do a doctorate? What does a typical day during the doctoral period look like? What motivates? What challenges and stumbling blocks arise? Experiences when writing a doctoral thesis.

I always had my goal in sight© Robert Kneschke - Fotolia.comDuring her own doctorate, Jenna Voss did not think much of having the right time management; now she helps others get organised
I could literally feel the tension dissipating as I opened the first bottle of champagne after defending my thesis while the final mark was still being deliberated next door. It was all over, but it still felt entirely surreal. I had obtained my doctorate. I decided to do a PhD while completing the very first projects back when I was studying. I noticed how science cast a spell on me. It was a desire to explore beneath the surface, to discover the causes and analyse patterns. It was my thing, and I devoted myself to this desire with passion. Yet when I asked my supervisor's advice upon completing my degree, she advised against doing a PhD. "Too old." I was 33 and crestfallen ... but did it anyway.

For almost five years, I pursued the question of the impact of family, societal and ecological demands on companies. It feels great to obtain a doctorate. It is a journey of discovery that opens up new dimensions in relationships, structures and notions. However, it is also a journey into your inner self, during which your own opportunities are explored. I found myself on this journey, and ... I reinvented myself. It wasn't always easy. It was a challenge or rather a series of challenges.

What did my typical day look like? During my doctorate, I first worked as a research assistant at an institute. During this time, I barely found time for my dissertation. The institute work and implementation of the complex research design consumed most of my time, which was generally a three-quarter and later a full-time position. I travelled widely throughout Germany, researched fascinating companies, and spoke with intriguing people. I only really came to writing the doctoral thesis when the project was almost over.

When the funding ran out, I still had a great deal to do for the dissertation The university provided scholarship funding for six months, which put me under a great deal of pressure, yet at the same time it motivated me to get as far as possible with the writing. The final three months of unemployment were both a work-intensive and frustrating time without any income.

My day was almost entirely filled with my doctorate. I worked in an intensive, disciplined manner every single day. The exception were one or two Sundays a month. Only because I pursed a clear aim was I able to do this: I already saw my completed book before my inner eye.

There were also setbacks, frustrations, crises and doubt though. My excessive working style had an adverse effect on my health. There were of course weeks in which I simply couldn't think of anything and didn't get a single sentence down on paper. The theoretical-conceptual work was particularly tough going. My task lay in uniting three different social fields of activity. It was at times exasperating. After countless mind maps and endless rewording, I was finally happy with the result. The second pitfall was my pronounced desire to work and my tendency to overwork.

In science, the work never actually ends, except if you set your own work and time structures. And I didn't do this. I simply began working. I pursued this work method through to the bitter end of my doctorate, despite knowing better - carried by my will, defiance and belief that I would make it. I didn't take the time to adjust my time management.

At the end, I held a sleek moss-green book in my hands. Yet my doctoral period gave me far more than scientific expertise. I have enhanced my thought and analysis potential, and grown and matured as a person. This brought me to my new field of work in which my experience forms the basis for the work as an academic and learning coach.

About the author
Dr. Jenna Voss founded an agency for academic coaching, Vocusi, and works as an academic and learning coach in the higher education sector. Her book "Zielgerade Promotion. Auszüge aus dem Tagebuch einer Doktorandin" ("The doctorate home straight: excerpts from the diary of a doctoral student") was recently published by UniversitätsVerlagWebler (UVW).

From Forschung & Lehre :: August 2012

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