Somehow, I'm doing a PhD

Through a combination of many events, I've landed into doing a PhD, something that i've always wanted to do
published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
academia blog personal

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been harboring this wish for doing a PhD since a long time. Ever since I first got the taste of “research”, I’ve been thinking about doing a PhD because in my mind it felt like an adventure compared to a regular desk job where I’d be spending most of my time fighting bugs and deadlines with the off-chance of having fun doing that. I needed stimulating problems, and a PhD felt like the golden goose that would lay golden answers one after the other.

To make up my mind, I chose to do my Masters (in Computer Science) by research rather than as a taught course. In the research track, I had to chose a topic, do a literature survey, write a thesis, jump through all the hoops a PhD student would (the regulations were the same as a PhD) but with a time span of 1 year. While this time span is nowhere near as huge as that of a PhD (3-4+ years), but it is just enough to get a good taste of what research life feels like and to make up my mind whether I indeed wanted to do a PhD.

Researching during the Masters era (it does feel so long back) felt more like being let out alone in the woods behind the house - it was confusing, exciting, scary, adventorous, but also somewhat safe because not much was expected of me in terms of output - a PhD student by comparison is expected to produce reams of work that somehow must get published by someone.

It taught me the challenges of facing a direction without someone holding my hand, without someone even telling me if it was the right direction - and this at times became frustrating and depressing. There were doubts where I did not know if the work I’m doing was good, mediocre, or outright stupid. But good sense prevailed and I did not have any mishaps. I completed my Masters with a decent body of work (not as much as I would have liked, but it’s still good work) and a firm desire to go ahead and do a PhD.

I began with applying to the IRC funding (it’s a government funding body that awards scholarships) but did not score well enough to secure it. After that, I had to wait a while due to personal issues until September‘14 where I started applying to PhD calls for positions I found to be interesting. It was a close call for a few of them as I missed out - one where I was amongst the 2 people being considered, and another where it was 5.

Interviews were going on, applications were being sent out regularly, and it was starting to get frustrating to the point where I had decided to just start working (job) and continue applying intermitently. I had two last interviews scheduled - one at NUIG, Galway and another one at Trinity, Dublin. The interview at Galway went quite well - I was offered a RA position while my funding was sorted out (applying for IRC again or getting funded by a research group), and a PhD in a few months - which sounded great because I would be working for a bit and then starting a PhD.

Before I could make up my mind though, I received this magical, wonderful, byte-stream of joy that somehow got interpreted into displaying my acceptance at Trinity. Wow. Nice. It took me days to actually let the fact sink in that I was now a (soon to be) PhD student. On track to fulfil another life goal.

The journey to there was not smooth though - there were some pretty rough bumps. Plans made for the summer with friends fell apart because I could not longer commit to a timeframe (blame academia). Sitting at home with a tiny amount of developement work going didn’t really help. It was frustrating to keep trying and trying and get within the reach of a PhD position and losing out at the last moment consistently. It was even more painful when I couldn’t figure out the reason for this - I was consistently told that I was good, but there were other better candidates at the time. I had no inclination on how to turn myself into a “better” candidate.

Thankfully, after a set of weird, but interesting interviews, the good fellows at Trinity thought it’d be okay to have me around, and so here I am, trying to figure out the fact that somehow, I’m doing a PhD.