Are You Ready for a PhD? A PhD Graduate Tells What She Learned About 'Failure'


Students have different reasons for getting their PhDs. Some might want to get on with it right after college - yes, some for some fields completing your undergraduate makes you an eligible PhD candidate. While some might prefer to take a break from studying for a while and explore their career options before going back to school to pursue their specializations. While others may find themselves enrolling much later in life.

One important thing to learn before getting your PhD is that failure doesn't mean failure but a pass is a pass.

Compared to the early stages of your education up to the time you finished college, students are given either failing or passing marks. End of story. When you work on you doctorate degree, you might not get a passing mark until after a number of minor corrections, in worse cases some students even get a revise and resubmit before getting a pass.

Fiona Whelan went through some point of self-doubt and failure when she got a "pass with major corrections" mark on her viva.

A pass is a pass. You may have gone through the material half a dozen times or so to ensure that it was perfect and that you can defend it perfectly yet your reviewers and professors think that it could have been done better and it's perfectly okay. A pass is a "pass" and not a "fail".

Another thing is that a person with a PhD has different career options aside from joining the academe in a teaching professions.Getting a job other than teaching doesn't make one a failure.

Dr. Whelan wishes to dispel the notion that doctorate degree holders should be teaching and researching alone. That's not always the case and postdoc can have fulfilling and lucrative careers outside the classrooms.

Fiona Whelan knew that teaching is not her thing and admits that her motive for pursuing her PhD is because she wanted make a positive impact in teaching and research but not through teaching and research per se. She wanted to work more behind the scenes, through university management.

Navigating her chosen path was difficult because she didn't know if it were viable and she sometimes found herself having to defend her choices before fellow doctors. Her choices were different from the conventional and traditional paths pursued by most PhD graduates.

Dr. Whelan is happy that she gets to live her dreams of making a positive impact in the academe working as an executive at the Student Welfare and Support Services at the University of Oxford while still having access to university resources that helps her do research, actively publish and attend conferences. She also hopes that higher education institutions promote and support non-traditional career choices for PhD graduates.

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