The Comfort Pursuit

Thinking about a PhD? Here are my reasons for embracing the mission

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PhD Comics Image

Since last May I have been representing the postgraduate students at the Faculty of Environment Society and Design (ESD) Postgraduate Committee at Lincoln Uni.

In the last committee meeting we discussed how much the undergrad students actually know about life in grad school. Based on that discussion we decided to give a presentation about what Lincoln University offers, especially in the Masters level. Two masters students talked about their experiences and I was asked to briefly talk about my experience in the PhD.

The presentations focused on personal experiences, why we chose to do it in the first place, what type of work we have to do and so forth. It was a strange experience to start with. I am aware I can be very passionate about research and academia, and that can cause varied reactions. A friend told me some time ago that I should be careful, because being too passionate about something could pass the wrong image. The image that you think just what you do has value. That is not my idea at all, but I learned I have to be careful.

Two masters students spoke before me. It was interesting to see their motivation was to be prepared for the ‘real world’ and how they expect the Masters to help them build knowledge to face ‘life out there’. These perspectives reminded me of myself several years ago… I used to think exactly like that.Β 

So last week I presented my experience based on what every academic writing has to inform: what you are doing, why you decided to do it and howΒ you will achieve your objectives. So here are my how (I decided this was the right choice), why (it is the right choice for me) and what (I am doing).

How

When I started my Masters my idea was to take the courses and not do the dissertation. I wanted to know more about lighting design, and courses in Brazil at that stage were very rare. So I jumped into the Masters thinking my stay would be brief, but I could never leave that life behind. Every challenge, every conference, and every paper made me more and more interested in that environment.

Around half way through my Masters I decided that the way to go would be to do the PhD overseas, in an English-speaking country. Why? I wasn’t sure at that stage, but was the best decision I could have ever made.

When I finished my Masters I tried to work in a 3D production company. But all that crazy marketing competition did not convince me, especially when my ex-boss told me to ‘change the sun’ to make a very ugly building more beautiful. Mind you he wanted the sun directly on the south faΓ§ade, in a way that a south faΓ§ade is never going to see the sun in the southern hemisphere. That did not work for me. I had just finished my Masters in natural and artificial lighting, I knew the energy, comfort and aesthetic implications of not having that sun. That sounded too much of a lie! I quickly realized that my thing was more about knowledge than money, probably not a very clever decision in our capitalist society, but here lies my passion. So I decided the right way to go was to put more effort on preparing applications, English proficiency tests, portfolio, CV etc to get to the PhD.

Why

I don’t think I have ever spoken publicly about why I like to be where I am and why I have no regrets of my decisions. Fact is the life in academia seems very ‘real’ for me. My ideal life does include lots of researching and writing and I have varied interests, which are connected somehow. They go from urban landscape design and microclimate to human comfort and health, finishing in post-disaster environment and climate change. Believe me, there is a thread that connects all of them. And that is why I made University life my life… Questioning and curiosity never ends!

I do miss working with design and the creative process in that area as well. I am sure I will find a way in the near future. At the moment all my focus is on finishing this thesis.

What

Here in New Zealand the PhD is based on the thesis and there are no courses involved. The difference between the Masters and the PhD is that the PhD has to be ‘new knowledge’, something that has not been discussed yet. Does it mean you need to invent the wheel? No, it doesn’t. It means that you have to be creative and discuss a topic from a new perspective that adds to the body of theory of your discipline. If it ‘adds’ new knowledge you have a PhD.

About my specific topic I have already written here.

Are you thinking about doing a PhD? If you are a candidate, how did you decide to do it? What are your aspirations and regrets (if you have the latter)?

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