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A mid-career doctorate… into the defense!

Doctoral research, Ideas you can use Add comments

One of my favourite lines from a movie is from “The Pursuit of Happyness” when the Will Smith character asks the guy with the fancy sports car two questions:

“What do you do, and how do you do it?”

"What do you do, and how do you do it?"

"What do you do, and how do you do it?"

It’s something I say to myself all the time when I see someone who has a life I kind of envy. Interestingly, its also the most common question I get asked about my mid-career doctorate. Now that the insanity argument has worn thin, and people have seen me chug through the past 3 years, to the point where my dissertation has been drafted and I am heading into my thesis defense this month, the questions now are more along the lines of “How did you do that?” Well, wait – I’m not done yet! There will still be a lot to complete, but I am hopefully getting closer.

I encourage anyone who wants to dust their brains off and have a good cerebral workout to consider tackling a doctorate in an area they are passionate about. The later in life the better, because the more life you bring to the table, the easier and more fun it will be. Here are a few tips that can make the journey easier:

  • Support of family and friends. You will be stealing attention and vacations from these folks for several years – try to make it as painless as possible, be in the moment when you can, and make it up to them when you are able! 
  • A supportive employer. Doing your doctorate in an area that can benefit your own development, as well as that of your organization, is huge. Combining these elements with an employer that supports people development gives you a terrific advantage. 
  • A topic you are really passionate about. Trust me on this – you will be bored silly by your topic area after you have lived with it for 3+ years. If you start out being half-hearted about your topic, you probably won’t make it. Don’t adapt your interests to a mythical job market – if you are passionate about pirate ship culture and adaptability to change – then that’s what you need to research!
  • Great thesis supervisors. I have been incredibly fortunate to have very helpful, extremely responsive supervisors. You can enhance your chances of getting good supervisors by researching previous theses they have supervised, and finding supervisors with a genuine interest in in your research area.
  • A university that is built for mid-career studies. My university, the University of South Africa has been doing distance-based education since 1946, making it a real pioneer. Nelson Mandela is among its many famous graduates. The School of Business Leadership is consistently ranked among the top 3 business schools in the country, and was the first school in the world to offer the Doctor of Business Leadership degree. This kind of experience means they have learned the hard way, so you don’t have to!

Well, that’s all for now – please wish me luck on the defense!

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