I am starting a conversation here with students who completed their first year of studies in a doctoral program. My hope is that through a deep reflection of their experiences, I will be able to help others who are interested in this joyous, but thorns-laden-journey. If you are a PhD student anywhere in the world feel free to share your reflections on the three prompts below. The expectation is that you will have taken time throughout the year to consider these items and to process deeply their implications in your personal, family, and professional growth.
Today I am officially starting this conversation with Ms. Magreth Mushi, a doctoral candidate at the North Carolina State University.
How has the doctoral program curriculum and experience stretched you professionally?
It has being a year now and I am glad to say that it was a challenging and a rewarding year both professionally and culturally. Before talking about my professional experience, I would like to first talk about the cultural experience shift I have encountered this year. I believe the cultural shift has influenced my perception on how I view my the profession growth I have seen this year.. You will agree with me that there is a big cultural difference between the so called Developed Countries and Developing Countries. Coming from Tanzania, it was challenging for me to keep up with the classwork and research workload in my first semester. I had to work twice as hard and with a family of three children- it wasn’t easy! Being in a PhD program as you know requires extended study times and intense intellectual effort. Without a doubt my professional experience has taken a leap forward. Professionally, I was a lecturer at a university in Tanzania. I spent most of my teaching time standing in-front of my class teaching, giving homework, exams, and doing research. Therefore, starting a PhD in the United States where you have to start from taking foundational courses, was revolutionary to me. This year the only thing that did not change was the research part in my life, everything else changed. I had to sit in classes, listen, do homework, and exams— it was like a parent becoming a child again. The whole point of it is the hands-on experience I get all the way from class sessions to the labs where you have to apply what you learned in class to live systems and simulated life-experiences. As a teacher I wasn’t doing much of the application side of teaching in my home institution. All of these new experiences were challenging at the beginning, but now I am used to doing them and it has become fun. From knowing the theory part of teaching, now I know more and I am starting to combine practical part of what I used to teach in class and much more.
Any crossroads have you encountered that have caused you to re-situate your thinking about a topic or issue?
I have come across many cross-roads. I believe this is very common in a PhD journey. I am not sure if crossroad is the right word, but it is rather a result of me gaining more knowledge and adapting to the new experiences. As explained above, what I was thinking before coming to the United States and starting my PhD is quite different from what I am thinking right now. A good example is the research statement I wrote during my PhD application. The title of this statement has changed twice over this year. This is due to me gaining more understanding in my area of research interest and I believe it is not final yet. It is possible that it will change again as I gain a deeper understanding in the area. I still have a long way to go.
What are your future plans post-doc and how do you imagine the next three years preparing you for those plans?
After my PhD study I am planning to do a post doctoral in order to enhance my professional experience. After that I plan to go back to Tanzania to continue with my carrier as a researcher and an educator. I believe there is so much improvement to be done in the education system in Tanzania. In five years to come I see myself in one of the top positions in the education system in Tanzania. I have many ideas on how to change the education system from the elementary level, secondary, and all the way up to higher education. I worked with the Tanzania Education and Research Network (TERNET) as deputy executive secretary since the day it was founded in 2007 until 2012 when I joined my PhD studies. I understand the challenges we face in our education system. Those that are easy to solve and those that are not but, challenging nonetheless. I know it only need honesty, knowledge, exposure, and will power change to change the way educational policies will impact the future of our education system in Tanzania.I am aware that for the rest of the years in my PhD and my post doctorial experiences, I have to enhance my technical and research skills to achieve all my goals. Furthermore, what is most important to me is developing leadership skills. I am glad that the university I am studying at (North Carolina State University (NCSU)) is giving me all the opportunities to advance in these areas. I believe at the end of my studies, I will be able to accomplish my plans and goals. Starting fall 2013, I am going to be involved seriously in research work in the area of computer networking (specifically fiber networks). I expect to sharpen my research and technical skills all the way through. I believe in enhancing my leadership skills through participating in different professional and community groups. For example right now I am a member of Women in Computer Science (WiCS) group at NCSU where we take a leading role in supporting, promoting, and retaining women in Computer Science, as well as encouraging other women to join computer science and engineering fields. I am also a member of NCSU STARS Student Leadership Corps (SLC) providing students with the opportunity to learn more about computer science careers, participate in service and outreach programs to local schools, engage in research, meet with leaders in the computer field. This entire involvement is meant to sharpen my technical, research, leadership skills for today and the future.
My advice to prospective PhD students in Tanzania.
My advice to anyone who is interested to embark into the PhD journey is to prepare to work hard and to also think through thoroughly before applying. They should prepare to meet and solve many challenges along the way while maintain a positive outlook of the situation. The article that helped me to get through all the PhD madness in my first year is included here. This article was (and still is) very helpful to me in several situations when I have to rethink my PhD path. I believe it will also help (and I recommend this to) all who are looking forward to start their PhD journey. I promise you, there are some times along the way you will have to stop and say “wait, am I sure I want to continue with this?” these are checkpoints where you have to think maturely and get advice from trusted sources. It is not something to be proud of, but several times I have visited flight booking websites wanting to book my flight back home, seriously! But few hours of rethinking and getting advice, will get you going. The good side of all of that is, others did it, others are doing it, and others will do it! Why not you? Wishing you good luck and welcome aboard!