The Three I's of the PhD journey

Earning a PhD formally certifies your ability to conduct independent research. That's hard, because knowing what we don't know is hard. Your journey toward a PhD will have its ups and downs—it's a rollercoaster, just like it has been for everyone else who’s been through it. That's why the chorus of the song "The Scientist" by Coldplay goes "Nobody said it was easy". However, you’ll find that there's a clear trend of growth as you move through the program. I hope the three I's -- Implementation, Investment, Independence -- will help guide you as a PhD student, giving you a clear idea of what to expect and what's expected of you as you progress.

First Paper: The Implementation Phase

During the Implementation Phase, you start by working closely with your advisor. This stage involves executing on your advisor’s ideas or co-developing concepts, where tasks are assigned and guided by more experienced researchers. You actively participate in completing these tasks while observing and learning the fundamental skills and methods used in your field. This phase serves as the foundational learning period where you gain the necessary experience and knowledge under the direction and support of your advisor, setting the stage for more independent research work.

It’s your project, but you get help to get stuff done, and your job is to observe how it’s done.

Second Paper: The Investment Phase

The Investment Phase marks a pivotal transition where you begin to take ownership of your research. In this phase, you develop ideas either with your advisor, a co-author, or on your own. Tasks are defined and executed collaboratively, and you are deeply invested in the process. This stage is characterized by a significant dedication of time, energy, and intellectual resources. You are committed to and responsible for the outcomes of the research, becoming increasingly autonomous and accountable for the progress and success of your work.

It’s your project: You get stuff done, especially if no one else gets stuff done.

Third Paper: The Independence Phase

The Independence Phase is the culmination of your PhD journey, where you fully develop and execute your own research ideas. In this phase, you take complete control over every aspect of your project—from ideation to execution. You are solely responsible for defining the tasks, solving problems, and ensuring the project's success. This phase represents your transition to becoming a fully independent researcher, capable of pursuing original ideas and contributing significantly to your field, with minimal to no reliance on others for the direction of your work.

It’s your project: You get stuff done, because no one else will.

Illustration by Adam Robinson at Dribble.