Tips for Preparing Yourself Before Starting a PhD

Dear readers, how are you? Alhamdulillah, after (again) having been on hiatus for a long time, which is about 3 weeks, finally I was able to take the time back to write on this beloved blog. This time, the topic I want to discuss is still around my experience as a doctoral ‘new student’ at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. In particular, I would like to go into a little more detail about how to prepare before starting PhD abroad, especially in top European schools. Indeed, it sounds really cool if you can study in Europe, but on the other hand there is a big responsibility that must be completed, so that everything can run well.

Why do I want to write this? It is none other than so that those of you who currently have the aspirations of furthering a doctorate abroad or are even currently waiting to leave, can prepare yourself better. In my opinion, this preparation is very important, because later we can determine the first impression assessment from the supervisor to us. Like people meeting for the first time, first impressions determine everything. If the first impression is good, then God willing, the future PhD journey will be more enjoyable. The opposite applies, if the first impression we give is unsatisfactory, it can affect our relationship to the supervisor in the future.

The next reason I write this is also to reduce culture shock , or to be surprised by a sudden change in culture that makes us struggle to adapt well. This culture shock , if we can’t handle it immediately, can lead to homesickness, aka the desire to go home to the most severe level, which causes depression.

Regarding depression, findings in the last 2 decades show that PhD is one of the jobs that has the highest stress level and poses a risk of depression 1 . It is not meant to frighten, but indeed I feel for myself how the ‘atmosphere’ of this PhD is different from when we were in normal school. When we go to school from SD to S2, we take various classes with structured materials and assignments, then we try to do the best possible exams to pass. Meanwhile, for S3 or PhD, we are trained to determine our own direction, find new scientific contributions in academics, and it is not uncommon for us to experience life that is ‘swayed’ because of working or completing unclear targets.

Okay, okay…. So now, how can we prepare ourselves before starting S3 abroad? Of course, prayers and blessings from parents are mandatory, huh, hehe… But that is not enough. There are other preparations that you need to know, so that you are better prepared to face your S3 later.

3 Basic Competencies a PhD Student Needs to Have Before Starting a Study

I was lucky to be a PhD student at TU Delft, where before starting the S3 project, we were equipped with a program called a PhD Startup. This Startup PhD is an orientation program of what kind of life a PhD will live in in general, and how a PhD in particular at TU Delft. In one of the PhD Startup modules, namely module A, it is explained that at least doctoral candidates understand or have assessed the 3 competencies they have in themselves. By conducting self-assessment as early as possible, it is hoped that each PhD student can immediately improve competencies that are deemed insufficient.

The three potentials are: (1) Research competence; (2) Scientific competence; and (3) Self competence. These three competencies must be mapped precisely and if possible the best they can be prepared before starting a PhD. These three competencies are ‘weapons’ to make PhD easier. If the weapon is good, it will be easier for us to face the challenges. However, if the weapon is not good or even not there, we will be overwhelmed to survive. The following is an illustration of the 3 competency models that PhD students need to have,

Credits: TU Delft Graduate School

A little more detailed description of the three competencies is as follows, which I took from TU Delft’s Doctoral Education Competencies Model 2 :

Research Competencies:

” Has the ability (research skills) to conduct scientific research. 

The ability of PhD students to be able to conduct research independently and scientifically responsible. This competency consists of several kinds of sub-competencies, such as: research project management skills, academic, conceptual and critical thinking skills, and academic behavior such as ethics and integrity in conducting research. Simply put, you need to assess how far you are in understanding the research procedures you are going to do, how then to keep the research project going well, and uphold research ethics well. Research ethics, for example, avoid plagiarism or falsification of data in research.

Question for reflection: on a scale of 1 – 10, what is the value of your research competency?

Scientific Competence:

” Has the breadth and depth of knowledge required in the field of doctoral research. 

This scientific competence is of course your understanding of the field you are researching. If research competence is about all the procedures and procedures for research, scientific competence is related to your scientific discipline. For example, I am currently doing research on archipelagic transportation models, so I have to really master the basics of transportation theory, methods, techniques, history, and so on. Although sometimes in the future we also need to be flexible because our research topic may change at any time, depending on the direction of our professor.

Questions for reflection: on a scale of 1 – 10, what is the value of your scientific competence?

Self Competence:

“ Focuses on personal and professional development, which facilitates your growth now and in the future career. 

This competency is a soft-skill competency that needs to be possessed for career needs both now and in the future. Some examples of competencies are the ability to work independently, be disciplined, work together with others, the ability to deal with stress and stress, the ability to communicate (both orally and in writing – especially English), and the ability to transfer knowledge to others. such as teaching or providing guidance to master’s students.

Questions for reflection: on a scale of 1 – 10, what is your competence score?

After you read the three things above, what score do you have? If you really feel excellent in all of them, of course the final score is 30. But you need to remember, this assessment needs to be made objective by considering the “expectations” of your institution as well. I mean, don’t let you judge by the number 10, while according to the professor you actually score 5. Now, if it’s like this, I think it’s better if we use the standard of the institution where we are.

How about supposing that our score is low in some aspects? For those of you who haven’t started your doctorate yet, in my opinion, you will immediately learn the various aspects that are lacking so that later when you meet the professor you will be more prepared.

What if I have already ‘already’ left and started my doctorate? There is no need to worry, because by doing this mapping, we will know where our strengths and weaknesses are. The results of this simple analysis can also be communicated to our supervisors, so that we can get feedback on how to overcome these deficiencies. One of the results that I got from this mapping was that I came to know that I myself have a deficiency in communication (spoken and written) in English for scientific purposes. So in addition to doing research, I also took the English for Academic Purpose (EAP) course. I myself feel a little late to find out about this, so there are many courses that I have to take and it is enough time for me to do research.

Therefore, I hope that this little insight that I share can help all of you who are preparing or just starting your doctorate to be even more prepared. Doctoral or PhD abroad is not just a school, but how we can lead our own research with full responsibility.

Hopefully this is useful. Hopefully, I will share some more stories of my experiences during my S3 in the Netherlands.

by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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