~Booker T. Washington~
Have you ever felt so down that you wanted to quit so badly?
Have you ever thought that you had made a wrong choice in life?
Will you ever give up when facing with hardship?
~Nope, at least not until I try my hardest!
Completing a PhD degree is not easy, but it is not impossible. You don’t have to be a genius. I’m not. All you need is will and perseverance.
There are a lot of success stories fed to us – to boost our spirit and keep our motivation up.
Thomas Alva Edison had succeeded after trying for 999 times. Henry Ford broke five times before successfully founded Ford Motor Company. The Wright brothers finally created a plane that could fly after several years of hard work, not to mention tons of failed prototypes… and the stories continue!
And the latest success story? Brian Acton, who created Whatsapp with Jan Koum, had been rejected from Facebook and Twitter in 2009, and after years later, he and Zuckerberg are now sitting side by side. Yeah, Facebook bought the app for $19 billion.
These are all true stories shared to the world with hope that people will continue to strive. But to some people like me, these stories sound more like a fairy tale.
Why, you ask?
Because these people are one in a million. They made history. And I don’t think I’m gonna be that popular 😛
The truth is, I started my PhD for a wrong reason; I just wanted to keep my job as a tutor at that time. To make matter worse, I didn’t have a strong background in graphics. I didn’t know much about research. So yeah, reading successful stories won’t actually help finishing my PhD. Sometimes it made me more upset because deep down I believed I couldn’t be like any of them.
What I needed the most during that time was the right guidance. And this guidance was given to me by none other than my supervisor, Geoff Wyvill (and of course with the unlimited support from my family!).
He said, when he found out that I didn’t have the required background knowledge: “I will take you from where you are, and make sure you will reach the end.”
When I was disturbed by unpleasant comments from people who thought I didn’t try hard enough and blindly criticized me based on my Facebook travel photos, he said: “It’s okay. We will prove them wrong.”
When I had no idea at all where and how to start this PhD journey, he said: “Start from a baby step.”
So, what are the steps necessary to start your PhD journey, especially if you are just like me, who were utterly lost from the very beginning?
- Topic, topic, topic
- Background knowledge
In business, you will think about location, location, location. In doing a PhD, identifying the topic you want to work on is important. Someone told me, just slightly before I started my study, to choose an easy topic in order to get a PhD, then once you have obtained the degree, apply for a grant to work on a topic that interests you the most.
I’ll say, I completely disagree. A PhD is not just a piece of paper. It is more like your partner in life, for better or worse. You commit most of your time to it. So why not work on something that you love and can be proud of, and have no regrets later on? This is one of the reasons why my supervisor doesn’t decide the topic for his students; he wants us to do what we like and not what he likes.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t proceed with your topic of interest without the background knowledge. It means you must be willing to learn, to do what it takes to gain the knowledge.
Since I stubbornly wanted to work in graphics and games area, Geoff agreed to guide me, but with one condition – I have to learn to make my own physics engine. So he “released” me from doing research for about 8 months, made me sit-in in physics and graphics classes, and started implementing the engine right after the semester was over!