As part of departmental requirements, it's time for the annual PhD evaluations, where your advisor and committee determine if you're making progress....or not. I just had the first meeting with a committee member, and it was definitely something I needed. This member is approaching his 72nd birthday, has been doing research here for almost 40 years, and is probably retiring very soon. What started off as a project update quickly turned into 1.5 hours of career advise and finding family-life balance. I sat and tried my very best to mimic a sponge to soak up everything he told me. Even though I didn't know, I apparently was in desperate need of this exact thing.
I want to list a few of things he told me here. Most of these are family focused, which I realize most PhD students don't have to deal with. However, the purpose is to really make sure you're being mindful of what you're doing and what you're setting your life up to be.
1) "What sacrifices am I willing to make to get this degree." Turns out, this is a SUPER important question to be aware of. As I've written about before, everything you say 'Yes' to, means there are many many more 'No's'.
2) If you're you getting data and you're writing, then you're making progress. To the extent possible, don't let the department dictate how fast you move through the program.
3) With a family at home, work from home a few times a week. Obviously there will be times when you have to put in long hours, but don't make this a habit. Working can become an obsession. Don't shortchange your family.
4) At some point, you'll get to the middle of the tunnel. When you start off, you can see where you're going. As you get further along, all light will disappear. You can't remember why you started and you can't see the end. You'll feel like there is no right way to go, and will be stumbling around. You'll hate your advisor and will isolate yourself. At this point, you should stop leading a 'monk-like' existence and, most importantly, keep moving. Now is not the time to stop! Seek out help and keep doing things.
5) Publish and write as you go. Don't wait to the very end to put everything together. You'll be job hunting, without publications to put on your CV if you wait.
I am very thankful to have an advisor who is just starting his career. It helps to motivate me and push me to focus on my work. However, having someone on my committee with almost 40 years of experience in research and managing grad students is also extremely valuable to me. That amount of experience is a treasure trove of information and knowledge. I am fortunate to have both ends of the spectrum to talk to and gain wisdom from.