Finally, the journey of my PhD is wrapped up this month. Thank God for keeping me alive and well.
Having just recently passed my Final Oral Defense, let me share here some lessons I’ve learned over 4 years of my study (September 2016 — January 2021).
Trust is essential
You can still work today because of someone else’s trust. Regardless of the job you are doing—whether as a professional, who works for an employer, or an entrepreneur, who creates job for people—trust is indispensable. Even your job as a government official or a country’s leader is only possible because people trust in you. So, everyone of us is given a platform to perform our skills and talents, and they must be harnessed for the good of others and for the greater cause. [We must also remember that our current positions do not last forever.] I am truly grateful that my supervisors are pleased to open the way for me to study, to guide me along the way, and to finally grant me a doctoral degree.
Enjoy the process
Doing a PhD demands patience and perseverance. You must learn to enjoy every process: reading literature, doing experiment, analyzing data, writing a paper, writing your thesis, submitting and revising those documents, making presentation slides, presenting your work, and finally defending your thesis. Unfortunately, these processes are not straightforward, but oftentimes some steps need repetitions. But the good thing is that you can keep track of your progress and see your growth. Hence, it’s important to focus on the process and not too worry about the outcome. People say, “If you have to fall, fall forward.” Even in failures, there’s always something to learn. You have to learn to live in the moment, knowing there’s a time for everything.
References are always needed
I have never seen a scientific paper or book without a reference. Throughout my studies, I need references for finding ideas and inspiration. Having references means learning from others—from their expertise and experience. And this is true, not only for writing and publishing a paper, but also more importantly for the long-term purpose in real life, i.e., to enrich your perspective while expanding your network to reach higher goals together. It goes back to this basic principle: “We can always learn something from everyone,” even though “We do not have to agree with everyone on everything.” Therefore, it’s important to find good references because their impact can really be life-transforming. Don’t forget to cite your references.
Humility should be the outcome
The more I learn, the more I realize my folly. Since I cannot do it alone, I should feel comfortable in asking for help (and vice versa, in being asked for help). I admit that I still need to grow in this area because oftentimes I feel more accomplished or proud if I can do everything single-handedly. But in life, really, there’s no such thing as being great on your own. [And also in death, no one can bury oneself single-handedly.] To me, doing a PhD can be likened to diving into an ocean (i.e., a little part of it)—it is just impossible to cover the whole ocean. Different parts of the ocean are like different fields of study, which not only have their own unique characteristics, but also similarities. Sometimes, one must take risks to dive deeper into the ocean that leads to an unprecedented discovery. The vastness of the ocean reveals the inevitability of unending pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps, that’s why it is called “doctor of philosophy” (which means “the lover of wisdom”). Wisdom and vanity simply do not coexist.
Know what really matters
There are times when we feel frustrated or discouraged, either because things were not going as we predicted or because people were not doing as we expected. Remember this: it’s not all about you. Also, keep in mind that your relationship with people, especially your loved ones, is more important than your personal agenda. When things do not work out, don’t be too hard on yourself, let alone on people around you. Be kind and show genuine respect to others. Have time to pray and relax your mind. As for me, I believe that God is always at work and He is causing everything to work together for our good. This PhD journey is not about my accomplishment, but rather about God working out His plan and fulfilling His promise in my life.
Frankly, having a PhD degree never came across my mind. When I was a kid, I never thought I would be an academic or a scientist. As far as I know, most of the older generations in my family and relatives are not so highly educated people. My parents studied until high school and none of my family members had a privilege to study at doctorate level. I knew no people in my extended family with chemical engineering or applied science backgrounds. So, for this reason, I can only be thankful and embrace this responsibility to contribute more to the betterment of our society through science and technology. And I wanted to thank all my teachers, from kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, to university; my academic supervisors; and of course, my parents who never cease supporting and praying for me—I would not be here as I am today without you all.
This is just the beginning and may God always bless us all.
P.S. Alright, so those are my thoughts on some of the takeaways that might be helpful for you—whether you are about to start, at the early stage, or at the final stage of your studies. Please leave me a message if you have any questions or comments. Cheers!
Vancouver, January 31, 2021