It has become tradition on this blog for me to reflect on each part of the PhD process. As my third year in the PhD comes to an end, and I am entering my fourth and final year, it is time to reflect on my third year. Which is exactly what I’ll be doing here. I try to describe my experiences as best as I can, so you can get a real grasp of what different parts of the PhD are like. I have written a review for both my first and second year in the PhD as well. Please do read those if you want to have an even better overview!
Term 1 Where to start reviewing the third year? Maybe it’s best if we contrast it to the previous year. If you’ve read my review of the second year, you know it wasn’t my best. By a looooong way. My second year was terrible, with loads of misunderstandings, slowdowns and disappointments. My supervisors and I figured out we hadn’t been on the same page for a while, and the whole process needed a reboot, which happened in the end. Most of the third term of the second year was spent trying to re-figure things out, and get the second chapter on the rails. The third year as a result felt like a completely different year altogether. Weekly meetings were back on track and in the first term I helped out teaching again (Business Statistics). Work was fine, definitely manageable. I was still doing the initial data analysis for the second chapter and I had resubmitted my first chapter (in paper form), as it had been rejected from a different journal quite quickly. This type of rejection might not seem very positive, but rather a quick rejection than one that drags on forever and requires even more work without result. In addition to this I also started to think about what my third paper (or chapter) should be. I started to have some ideas, for both myself and collaborations with others. So all in all, not a bad term.
Term 2 It was in term 2 that things really started picking up. I had presented my second chapter (to the extent that it was ready) to the department and had gotten feedback which was effectively along the lines of: “you’re doing the wrong analysis, it makes no sense, run this one instead.” It took me several hours to recover from that, but after that my supervisors and I just went for it. We re-ran a completely different analysis and it worked much better. And was also ten times more easy to explain. As of writing this part of the article (26th of May, 2020) that chapter has been written up. At least its first draft is. I’m sure it will require a lot of edits and finetuning, especially when needing to be submitted to journals, but its core is done, and that’s a massive relief. In term 2 it also became clear that I had gotten a revise & resubmit from the second journal I had submitted my first paper to. This revision requires me to run another study, providing a stronger causal explanation for my findings, which is totally fine. The ethics and funding applications for that study went well and both outcomes were positive. You should have seen me in this second term, I was like a steam roller: couldn’t stop me! Besides being really motivated and getting a lot of work done quite quickly, I also (finally) was able to help teach Neuroeconomics, a course that I really wanted to help teaching as I enjoyed taking it a lot when I was in the MSc Behavioural and Economic Science. It was a great experience and good fun!
And then, as the second term came to and end in the first week of March, we entered lockdown. Which is where we still are today (as of the 26th of May).
Term 3 The other shoe needs to drop. Our third term spans end of April to July. Early March it became clear that COVID-19 wasn’t something to be taken lightly, at all. Everything shut down, and I travelled home as soon as I could. That is exactly where we are today, working from home, which for me is the Netherlands. I’m sure it has been quite an adjustment for everyone, but I can’t complain at all. Work hasn’t actually been less productive, nor have my supervisors been slacking, despite both having children they know have to home-school. Work continues to be productive. The new and improved analysis for chapter 2 also provided the foundation for the first part of chapter 3. Within chapter 2 we found that one independent variable kept making an appearance, despite the literature not predicting that it should. Well, there’s plenty of room for discovery there. The initial data analysis part of chapter three is also already done as I’m writing this, so it’ll soon be time to set up an experiment complementing it. So far so good! The conference season hasn’t slowed done either. I have managed to attend plenty of online conferences, and will continue to do so throughout this term, and probably also year 4. Is it bad that I actually find online conferences much more convenient? On top of living my best online life, my friend Sarah and I have also started a podcast together. When she proposed the idea my initial reaction was: “Are you mental? Who is going to listen to us blab on?!” Despite my initial doubts, and complete lack of technical understanding, it has been a really cool process, and the podcast is doing well. So honestly, I can’t really complain. Do give it a listen and let me know what you think! The only drawback I’ve really experienced is the inability to conduct real-life experiments. The experiment for chapter 3 was planned to be fully done online anyway, so it didn’t suffer. The additional experiment for chapter 1 has been postponed, likely to run at the start of the next academic year, if possible. This also postpones the ability to publish the paper, but I think this hardly warrants me complaining… Overall the third term has been one hell of a term, probably the best one I’ve had so far, as weird as it sounds. I think it might have been the reboot by COVID-19 that gave me the space to breath and figure it all out from scratch. It was that type of break that I needed. I’m not happy with the form it took, as its wreaking havoc on the world, but it’s given me something I seemed to need with regards to personal growth. Silver lining anyone?
Summer Term Did I mention the other shoe had to drop earlier? Well it fucking dropped. This part of the article is actually written 3 months later (August 27th). Everything slows down in summer, whether you want it to or not. And I didn't want it to (yes I have an unhealthy relationship with my work, I'm working on that...). "Issue" is, my supervisors have healthy relationships with their work, and families who also need (and deserve) their attention. So they massively slowed down on the workload, and I was left with more questions rather than actionable guidelines. Lucky thing is: I started picking up collaborations with people who aren't my supervisors (this is a good idea!). However, one collaboration (project 4) is very similar to my second project, and what happened was that my collaborator quite quickly figured out some of the variables had some odd distributions. So that took a while to solve. And in the end, these two projects (2 & 4), due to similarity in analysis, might get merged. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. I have started collaborating with an industry partner as well, under the supervision of an external academic, together with my supervisors. Let's call this project 5. At the pace this is currently going, I wouldn't be surprised if it's going to take at least another year, but it might qualify as "postdoc stuff." Projects 6 and 7, with yet another external academic who used to be a professor in my MSc, are in different stages. Project 6 is most definitely her project, but needs guidance and some finetuning, project 7 is actually going to be based on this blog! So that's all exciting stuff! All in all: I got frustrated quite a bit, but managed to turn my (unwarranted) frustration from being "held back" by my supervisors who were on their break into other collaborations. Which is good. It's healthy! Lastly, I designed (with loads of help from a kind stranger from twitter) the experiment for my third project, which should be able to run somewhere late September. So that's pretty good!
Plans for year 4 You might have noticed that I’m pretty close to satisficing the 3-paper criterium set by the WBS PhD guidelines. So what does year 4 hold? Well, as I said before: project 1 still needs an additional experiment, which will have to be run online. I hope to have that all sorted out before November. Project 2 requires some proper exclusion criteria for variable levels, but the analyses itself are sound. Project 3, because it's based on a similar analysis as project 2, will be recoded as well, and the additional experiment will be run in September. For the thesis itself, I'm probably keeping project 4 as its own chapter. My collaborator knows this and is fine with it. The topic of this research is mobile payments rather than contactless payments, which is why the analysis is quite similar (it also comes from the same data). For publication purposes, it might be that projects 2 and 4 merge into one paper. Which is fine. Having mentioned postdocs in the summer term section, my fourth year will focus on applying to postdocs in general. To be more attractive for those positions, it’s quite important to have published work, so most of my time and energy will go into journal submissions. Wish me luck! You might also have noticed I haven’t mentioned anything about teaching. I’m not planning to teach at all during my final year. At least, not for the 10-week courses. Of course, I will continue to write on here. I have no intentions on bailing on you, my dear reader!
The third year summarized I think it’s safe to say that my third year was my best year so far. Much less problems, ten times more motivation, and despite COVID-19, a better working environment. And it shows. I got a lot more done, and also feel in a much better position. I’m ready for the fourth and final year. Let’s do it!
If you want to know more about my PhD experience, I have written a review for both my first and second year in the PhD as well. Please do read those if you had any more questions about doing a PhD :).