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PhD as jigsaw puzzle




pedˇaˇgoˇgy (pĕd'ə-gō'jē, -gŏj'ē)
  1. The art or profession of teaching.
  2. Preparatory training or instruction.

[French pédagogie, from Old French, from Greek paidagōgiā, from paidagōgos, slave who took children to and from school. See pedagogue.]




Earning a doctorate is like putting together a complicated puzzle

I just had a great idea how to describe the pursuit of a PhD - and it also gave an idea for how to welcome my own new students into the fold...earning a PhD is like making a complicated puzzle, one of those 1,000 piece monsters, but without knowing the final picture.

My family has been doing puzzles for the past several years, it's very relaxing and "family comfy." When you dump out a new puzzle, it is all just a jumble. you have no idea about the parts, how it will look. Then you get sorting out the pieces, start by turning them all right side up, start to see edges. This is your literature review, your initial thoughts as you write them down. (Months later these thoughts always seem so basic and trivial!)

After a while you start to recognize colors and you start sorting pieces into like piles. HEY, these fit together! Woo, hoo! There will be obvious patterns, a tree or a kite or a really bright flower, as you get those parts of the puzzle finished you start to feel some real accomplishment. Perhaps you might present parts of your puzzle - your "picture" so far - to an audience. (This is when you present at a conference.)

Then you get to the pile of leaves, or the big ivy patch, or something like that, and boy howdy....i...t.... .s...e...e......m...s.... ..l.. .i....k...e...  .f...o...r...e...v.. get that part done. This is one of the biggest stresses you will face. Many students leave at this point, the going is hard, they don't (can't!) see the big picture, every little bit of progress is a challenge. Ooooffff! Very difficult.

The pace picks up again. Either you managed to push though it, you solved your problem, perhaps the picture became much clearer, you achieved greater focus.

At some point you really begin to "know" the puzzle, you see a piece and immediately know where it goes, even if you are working somewhere else. The puzzle starts to show some definition, people see your puzzle and begin to get interested in what it looks like. You start to see the finish, the final pattern, but you still have a number of pieces left to go. You work hard, and finally you are at a point where you just have a few more to go.

Finally, you finish putting it all together. You _made_ something. You want to show it off, people want to see it. This is a picture that has never been seen before. You write papers about your picture. Congratulations! No one can take that success away from you.

That's the story of earning a PhD.