First day high as a Ph.D. student

For the past few weeks (or months), I have been preparing for my first day of Ph.D. classes. I have been accepted into a ladderised Ph.D. in Economics program where I go through the entire 63-unit coursework covering both M.Sc. and Ph.D. Economics in eight terms.

Being a non-Economics major back in my undergraduate studies (I studied Humanities and Integrated Marketing Communications at UA&P), I was, and still am, anxious about pursuing an entirely new discipline, which comes with an honest admission of weakness on my part when it comes to mathematics. I call it my known handicap in life (despite having graduated from Manila Science and its robust Math programme; also, that was 18 years ago!). A note aside, one advice I read is to take these subjects as though one were learning a new foreign language.

Too anxious that I started reading a bunch of advanced undergraduate and entry graduate-level books on Mathematical Economics knowing that it is already lucky for me to enter the programme at Term 3 which will wet my feet in graduate Labour Economics and the Economics of Regional Integration, rather than diving right into a six-unit course in Mathematical Economics in a couplet with a three-unit course on Economic Statistics. In my head, I have about 16 weeks to prepare for that; it would  be a serious matter of commitment, however, to prepare properly for these Term 1 courses.

The ladderised programme at DLSU, I have been told, is largely empirical thus the focus on mathematical rigour across the eight term-plan study including two terms equivalent to twelve units of dissertation (the right to go into it is contingent to passing a comprehensive exam by the sixth term).

A few weeks ago, soon after having enrolled in Labour Economics and Regional Integration, to quell my ‘fear’ of the unknown, I started reading both undergraduate and graduate-level materials to prepare me for Day 1. I realised that my strength, at least for now, is in understanding the theoretical dimension of the study whilst I stumble once too often on the empirics of it.

I have spent, more or less, a good 14 years of work in the industry mainly on managing a business through digital marketing, advertising, communications, brand management and commercial and in general everything that had to do with bringing to market products and services through strategy and creativity. Then now, I have gone full time in my pursuit for a terminal degree (ironically called so when I see it as only the beginning of what I would call my Fourth Act, professionally and personally; I will write about that in a separate post) in Economics.

I have also read blogs and articles weeks ahead of my first day back in school after 14 years of being out of it — all of which have been successful in giving me practical take-aways or advice.

Several posts on James Hayton, Ph.D.’s advice website are invaluable. It sets a common ground for students embarking on their Ph.D. journey earlier on: that one takes on the awesome opportunity and challenge to earning a Ph.D. because she wants to pursue original academic research that will contribute to the field’s body of knowledge. It helps in orienting the mindset appropriate for doctoral work which is very different — or it should be — from how we approached undergraduate studies whose objective was simply to gain knowledge, earn the diploma and go out into the job market (and earn from it). This helped me a lot in embracing the new role I need to internalise and practise as a full time doctoral student.

A Guide (and Advice) for Economists on the U.S. Junior Academic Market by John Cawley and Being a Graduate Student in Economics by William Thomson (who in large part referenced Cawley’s advice) were also equally helpful in preparing me for starting this academic endeavour. They provide practical advice on a broad spectrum of topics like choosing your advisor, what to expect on a daily basis, research work, teaching and, in general, almost about anything essential to make my Ph.D. journey an informed choice (so that what can be controlled and aligned from the onset is addressed leaving less to surprising moments).

Yesterday is what I considered Day 0. I spent the afternoon in the university’s impressive eight-floor library looking for materials I have marked the night prior via the library’s online database service (that made it so easy to plan the walk-around the library); materials I would be reading for my two classes this term. The perks of being an entirely new student in a university different from where you earned your bachelor’s include being like a child on a day out in the museum; you just see things with the curiosity of a child. I checked out nine books, which I am going to dedicate the next 14 days (unless I extend my loans) to reading.

Today was Day 1. I arrived on campus about an hour prior class which gave me time to visit the chapel (which I think I will be doing on a regular basis; separate post on this one) and down a double shot whilst reviewing my pre-read of the initial topics in Labour Economics.

I entered the classroom first by checking if I am in the right class. Just as I expected being a new student coming in Term 3 of the academic calendar, my classmates already knew each other save for one who is also starting her studies from this term. What a diverse group – age-wise and, I am certain, personality-wise as well.

By the end of the class which was an hour earlier than scheduled, I am glad that a group had invited me and the other lady who, like me, was also just getting started to dinner. It was a great way to get to know my new classmates from various cohorts of the programme and to know that I also have someone in my cohort. I realised that even in this group we joined, people came from a diversity of background. Some have had prior teaching experience, some have come straight into the programme from their undergraduate and a few who currently work in the industry as practitioners of the discipline.

Later tonight, I told my husband Rhex that I feel like a new man mainly because I find myself in a world, a new universe where my role is different from what it had been — professionally and personally — in the last 14 years.

I know that this programme is going to be tough. But I also know very well that, based on my experience, the best way to deal with it is through practice, repetition and ‘grinding’ (the sum of which is hard-work). Embracing a handicap and turning it into a place of strength has always interested me in very surprising ways. It is not a perfect comparison, but relevant just the same: I have often found myself performing good, well, or better when I am out of my comfort zone because of my ability to first admit a weakness or dislike for something then I embrace it wholeheartedly until it becomes a passion. This is how it was for me in weightlifting and, more recently, CrossFit.

I used to hate ‘leg day’ because it meant doing heavy back squats or other versions of the squat. It caused me pain — that ironically made me love it more over time. When I joined Central Ground CrossFit, it was not as though I was into it. In fact, each time I went there felt like I was proving to myself even more that it is not for me. Yet, I persisted and through the pain of the daily ‘grind,’ I learnt to love it more that I started to dream of competing ‘Rx’ someday soon.

There is a Lominger leadership competency called assignment hardiness which is typically about the ability of the leader to adjust in new international assignments given the hardships in her new market/domicile. I have a modified view of it — a measure of one’s hardiness in a new assignment (or project, venture, or endeavour; i.e. like getting a Ph.D.). I would like to think that this attribute will help me endure this journey knowing that my handicap will be put to test and everything I am as a person will likewise hang on the balance as I go through the rigour demanded of doctoral students.

I cannot thank my husband enough for supporting me in this undertaking. A hero in this story whose kindness and love have allowed me to embark on this new pursuit. We both knew that this time would come — and it did as though the ‘universe conspired’ for it. The support of my family and friends have been overwhelming; something I know I would need to sustain myself in this new venture I have just started.

Someone (well, a couple of them, actually) asked me two questions tonight that stuck with me. What made you decide to study full time? And, why economics? I will address that as well in my future posts.

For now, I am glad to relish the beauty of Day 1. Day 1’s do not happen quite often; so, here’s to that and the years ahead of me (and my classmates)!




One Comment on “First day high as a Ph.D. student

  1. Pingback: The many whys I need and have to answer (2 of 2 parts) « me ampersand &;

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