How I juggled a full-time profession and a PhD at 55 – A live motivational talk by PhDiva, aka Lorie Owens
No one prepared me for the worst possible outcome of a dissertation defense: Failure. Yet, after waiting outside in the hallway for over 90 minutes, I was certain of it. My advisor summoned me back into the room with a wave of the arm as he shook his head and glibly said, "You’re going to have to do it again."My own road to PhD proved circuitous, rocky, and unpredictable. At many times, I felt utterly alone.
You must have received a lot of advice about the things you need to do to successfully complete your PhD and launch your career as an academic. But the road to a PhD is a long and arduous one filled with challenges and sharp turns. It is not uncommon for aspiring researchers to feel the urge to give up or lose hope in the process. It is extremely important for you to stay focused and motivated to follow through until the end of your PhD. In this live talk, you get to hear from someone who knows exactly what these challenges are and has overcome them herself.
Lorie Owens, popularly known as PhDiva on Twitter, got her PhD at 55, after the failed dissertation. In this motivational talk, Lorie shares some of the real challenges she faced while trying to manage a full-time profession and a PhD.
What you can expect from this session
- Tips and guidance on managing a research career
- Motivation and inspiration on dealing with the real struggles you face as a researcher
- Advise on dealing with failure and rejection
- Real-life experiences shared by Lorie
- A chance to interact with Lorie and answers to your questions about dealing with a PhD
- A platform to share your own personal experiences as a researcher
Questions received during the session
Below are the questions followed by Lorie’s responses to them as well as a few recommendations from us based on Lorie’s responses.
Hello, I am so happy that I have a chance to listen you! I am an 18-year old girl from a little country called Georgia. I am a medical student at New Vision University. Several days ago I was informed that I would be participating in Winter School at the University where I can showcase an interesting potential research project. I am so happy about this! I have prepared a project on the theme of personalized medicine. This project has the capacity to increase the popularity of the concept of personalized medicine in Georgia. Do you have any advice for me on how I can prepare for a presentation? I really want to win this competition. It’s my first attempt at research. Please share my question with Lorie. Her advice is really important for me.
Lorie: I find that using Power Point or similar tools where a slide deck can be created for a presentation allows me to prepare my talk, face my audience, and pace myself with the displayed information. Challenge yourself to never read from the slides, but to speak directly to your audience. Telling the stories behind the data will connect with the listeners. Best wishes for all your future endeavors!
Editage Insights: Lorie is right! Telling the story behind your data will help you connect with the audience. Here are a few more tips to help you prepare for a conference presentation:
What is the biggest motivation for research publications? How can I get more publications against my name in less time? Which journal should I publish my research in?
Lorie: To be honest, I have not published extensively myself, though I am directly involved in the publication process in my role as a developmental editor for a refereed journal. Academia has elevated the value of publication by making it a requirement for hiring and advancement. My advice:
- Seek mentors in your geographic and academic area to advise you and perhaps to include you as an author in some of their publications. But make sure you always abide by the principles of ethical authorship.
- Pay close attention to the journals that you use in your own research— You’ll notice that each journal’s webpage offers guidance about its aim and scope as well as provides instructions for authors. Read these to see if your work fits their needs. Then curate a list of potential journals for yourself.
- Many journals regularly issue a “Call for Manuscripts” in which they specify upcoming topics and submission dates. These can be found online as well, on the journal’s website.
- Consider your thesis/dissertation as a source for several articles. While it might be difficult to get your entire thesis/dissertation published, it could very well constitute the material for a few academic articles.
Editage Insights: What great advice! Make sure you choose the right journal for your paper. Here are some more tips to help you with that:
How can one publish in high impact factor journal?
Lorie: This question sent me searching for answers on the Internet. The first article I read confirmed my notion that content and writing style earn greatest notice among the high impact factor journals. They tend to be quite specific in their readership and content needs; accepted authors align directly with the publication’s needs. If you can align yourself with well-published senior colleagues and collaborate with them on a publication, that may give you original access until you establish yourself as a name in the field.
Realize that journals that accept unsolicited manuscripts will have an incredibly low acceptance rate. Do not be daunted by this, but instead be inspired to put yourself in the best possible position as an author. Know the journal’s publication schedule, read their “Call for Manuscripts,” review their aim and scope, read the instructions for authors. All of this information can be accessed on a journal’s website. The more you know about the publication, the more likely you can tailor your writing to their needs.
Editage Insights: Perhaps, reading a few more perspectives about the impact factor will also help you choose the best journal for your research.
Is it easy to find a post-PhD position? What do you recommend?
Lorie: There seems to be a plethora of Post Doc positions advertised online. For example, this article offers straightforward advice. Should you choose academia as your career goal, remember that a postdoc is a temporary position. Consider carefully if you should be devoting your energies to seeking a tenure-track position, if only for the financial security.
Editage Insights: If you do decide to continue with a post doc, you will find some of these career tips useful:
Do you think it is necessary to attend conferences? My university does not have grants for conferences.
Lorie: I have been fortunate to have been able to attend several conferences, paid for my employer at the time (a state education agency) or my university. I cannot say that I necessarily gained knowledge at any of these that directly benefitted me. What did prove more valuable to me was the ability to meet people in my specific field and have intellectual conversations with them. That being said, we can accomplish much of this same networking online in this 21st century world. You need not feel limited by your inability to attend conferences. Many of them will post the keynote speeches and other addresses online afterwards. You can access the intellectual “meat” of the conferences in that way. Other than that, seek out virtual colleagues via social media. After all, that is how I came into my relationship with Editage and “met” all of you!
Editage Insights: Lorie is right! While attending conferences is a great way to build a strong network, you can also explore other online and offline channels. Check the article below to learn more:
Having said that, if you come across a conference that you believe you should definitely attend, inform your university about it and make a case for a conference grant. Give it a shot. You may end up with a grant! Even if you do not, your university will be aware of your efforts to attend such events and might change its policy in the future.
Can you provide some specific examples of other ways to use your doctoral degree besides a tenured position? I’m pursuing an Ed.D. at 49.
Lorie: Among my “dissertating” colleagues, we have a middle school principal, a researcher at a think tank, a faculty member at Dulwich College, a consultant at a state education agency, and me—with my multiple roles (journal editor, adjunct faculty member, private editor and writing coach). What I am trying to say is that there are certainly several post research options out there.
Follow individuals on social media who specialize in helping researchers with advice along these lines. One great blog is From PhD to Life. Also, Cheeky Scientist, ubiquitous on social media, offers great guidance for PhDs seeking to find their value outside of academia.
Editage Insights: Here are some more useful tips for you:
- What next? Career navigation advice for PhDs and postdocs
- How to become a peer reviewer: Tips for early career researchers
How did you manage to separate the three professional roles from each other? And your personal life too? Did the contents of the three bags ever get mixed up?
Lorie: To be sure, my mind crept from one area to the other throughout the day, but I knew to maintain the three roles, I had to focus my attention on each one. I had to be in the moment. So, leaving the other bags in the car helped me to do that. I couldn’t be tempted to continue researching while at my 9-to-5 government job if all the materials I needed were in the parking lot. If I had some down time that allowed me to work on one of the other areas, I still avoided carrying more than one bag. I might email myself the document I needed to edit or carry a single document with me elsewhere.
Keeping multiple copies of every document online helped prevent tragic errors—like forgetting a handout I needed to distribute to a class I taught. In the beginning all three of my bags were black—that was a mistake. I did grab the wrong bag and paid the price by walking several blocks in pouring rain to get the correct one. After that, as I could afford it, I purchased a backpack for my student life, used a canvas briefcase for my government job, and an oversized tote for my adjunct teaching role. Each bag type aligned to its role in my mind, and there have been no mix-ups since.
Someday I’ll have to write at length about my personal life during my nearly 7-year PhD process: You see, in the midst of juggling my professional life, after being divorced for many years, I met THE one. But I was so busy! It must have been “meant to be” because we ended up marrying in year two, a move I joke was “stay here ‘til I finish, please.” I missed only one day of work and zero classes the long weekend we married. Next February, we’ll celebrate our 10-year anniversary. He understood my commitments and had his own. His two children, in high school and college at that time, recognized the same. I participated in their activities as I could. I like to think that I showed them by example how to find academic success.
Editage Insights: It is indeed tough to multitask and juggle multiple roles as an academic. You may find this article quite useful.
What are the important points to remember during data collection? And how should we analyse our data? I have to complete my PhD within 2 years. Currently I am involved in field work...so how early should I complete my research?
Lorie: I conducted qualitative research and I did not develop a clear research question until just before I began collecting data. Generally, one must have IRB - Institutional Research Board (or its equivalent) approval for the research before collecting any data. So, do not collect any data until those documents have been filed; no data can be collected prior to IRB approval for the research. I conducted interviews and transcribed each of them myself within a week after the interview was held. That allowed me careful interaction with the words, and I believe set me up for a richer analysis afterwards.
Follow the guidance of your advisor, committee, and principal investigator at your university. While I can offer general advice, these individuals can provide you the most specific answers.
Editage Insights: You should definitely ensure that you have IRB approval before data collection. Also remember that it is essential for you to store and manage your data well. Here is some more perspective and tips on data storage and management:
Share your story with us
If you have experienced hardships during your PhD, this session is just for you. We’re sure you have some stories or experiences of your own about dealing with a PhD and research career. And we’d love for you to share these with us.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Do write to us with your stories or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Lorie Owens
Lorie Owens, or PhDiva (@dissertating) as she is popularly referred to on Twitter, turned her love of reading into an undergraduate English major and a couple decades of teaching high school English. A subsequent move into mid-level bureaucracy at her state’s department of education led her to pursue her PhD, first part-time, and eventually full-time, becoming a graduate research associate at age 55. Earning her PhD came after a failed dissertation defense, and the struggle to revise, resubmit, and successfully defend led her to provide support to PhD candidates via her popular Twitter feed @dissertating. The feed has been active since April 2015 and boasts over 9,000 followers.
Lorie currently teaches college writing and education courses at two universities, serves as developmental editor for the education journal Theory into Practice, and coaches private “dissertating” clients. Her family life includes her husband of 10 years, two grown sons, two stepchildren, and two granddaughters. Read Lorie’s personal experiences: