8 qualities that will get you through tough times in your PhD

An economics doctorate can be fraught with challenges and difficulties. Here we look at some of the personal qualities that will help you keep making progress when you run into a problem.

1. Creative thinking

If something goes wrong during your PhD studies – which will surely happen! – then you need to find creative solutions.

If your initial analysis didn’t produce meaningful results for your main question, did it reveal any other interesting insights? If your pilot test didn’t work, can you salvage the data or design a better test? Maybe you couldn’t find the data you were hoping for – would finding an appropriate instrumental variable help fill the gap?

The process of research is truly a learning process and if your research is new it has likely generated new knowledge. The finding “no relationship” can also be interesting.

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2. Adaptability

As a doctoral student, you are an expert in some areas and inexperienced in others. To cope with challenges, you must adapt and learn new skills. A lifelong learning attitude is a good trait for graduate students.

So don’t tell yourself that you’re “not good with numbers” or “not a good writer” — instead, you’ll benefit from the fact that you sometimes need to learn new skills or spend more time on certain aspects of your research. Asking for help from your peers while making connections that will help you support each other through the difficult PhD process can be a good start.

3. Openness

As with adaptability, it is important that you are open to new ideas. Don’t get too attached to any one idea, method, or approach to your work. It is better to consider different approaches when you are in a bind. For example, maybe your experimental method didn’t work, but there might be another method you could use instead.

Findings from other social sciences can be helpful both in theory and in methodology. Especially if you know colleagues who work in other disciplines, it can be very enlightening to talk to them about your research interests.

4. Ability to accept criticism

It’s hard to hear criticism—especially when you’re tired, worried, or stressed. But when you run into a problem, you really need to listen to criticism from your manager or peers. They provide you with a wealth of information and ideas that your project can greatly benefit from.

If you find this difficult, try writing down the feedback and not responding to it immediately. Take a day to think about it before responding, and you’ll find it easier to accept valid criticism.

5. Have (and use) a support network.

You can’t do your PhD alone, and you need a team to help you when the going gets tough. Fellow PhD students, others in your department, people you meet at conferences and events, family and friends may be asked for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it—whether it’s advice, technical help, proofreading, or just socializing to distract yourself.

6. Perseverance and determination

You will surely encounter some obstacles in your PhD, such as: For example, the rejection of your work from a journal, an experiment that didn’t work out as planned, or the unavailability of resources you relied on for your project.

During these times, you must be able to keep working and not give up. If you’re really struggling with a problem, it’s okay to take a few days off to think about it. Keep pushing back your problems and seek help when you need it, and you’ll likely find a way to eventually overcome it.

7. Stress management

Anyone doing a PhD feels overwhelmed by stress at times. It’s normal to feel this way occasionally, but it becomes very difficult when you’re feeling stressed all the time.

To keep your stress levels under control, you should find a way to let off steam that works for you. Some people enjoy exercising or playing a team sport, while others prefer meditation or relaxation techniques. Some people just like to read or spend time with friends. Find something that works for you and set aside some time each week to manage stress. This will make you much better able to deal with problems when they arise.

8. Resilience

All of these traits help you become more resilient—that is, able to handle difficult situations and not give up when problems arise. Mental resilience is a very important trait for a PhD student that many graduates will recognize in retrospect as a trait they developed during their PhD. In a PhD, as in the rest of your life, dealing with stress and adversity will be critical to success.

Studies have found that positive emotions are key to coping with negative experiences. One of the best ways to build your resilience is to occasionally take time out to indulge in fun activities. It may feel reckless, but it will help you in the long run.

Photo credit: Pixabay.