How To Survive Your PhD (or Master’s Degree)

Jason Karp


(By Jason Karp, received his PhD in exercise physiology after 7 years of doctoral, during which he learn everything you shouldn’t do if you want to have a PhD in 4 years)

Being smart is just one part – maybe even a small one at that – of earning a PhD degree. The larger, more important part is making the right choices, being persistent and understanding how to work the system and the process.

I’ve met many people with master’s degree or bachelor’s degree in my discipline who act as if they have PhDs. They think they have tons of knowledge. They go around referring to themselves as physiologist. Sometimes, if they can, they cite the literature, thinking that impresses others.

But as I learned over the 7 years while going through the process, there is a huge difference between a master’s degree and a PhD. This difference is definitely larger than between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. There’s the obvious time difference (takes 2 year or more to obtain master’s degree and 4 years or more to obtain a PhD), but time is only the minor difference.¬†There is a large transformation that takes place over the time between your master’s degree and your PhD. You go from reading the research of others to being one of the researchers yourself. You go from reading the works of other scholars to being one of the scholars whose work is read. You go from reading the novels of others to writing your own. You go from being on the outside looking in to being on the side looking out. You go from watching the poker game to sitting at the table with your own set of chips.

Despite all the stress, frustation and anxiety that accompanies the pursuit of this degree, that’s pretty darn cool. If we knew what we’re doing, it would not be called research, would it?