Finished my Ph.D.!!

Reflection on my PhD and career plans for the journey ahead.

Finished my Ph.D.!!
Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

This Tuesday, April 30, I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis. The committee said some nice things about my thesis and decided to accept it as is. I still have to submit the final version to the university and sign some forms before they give me the official degree. After that point, my thesis will become public. You can already find the recording of my Thesis defense rehearsal and a video covering the necessary background on this playlist. In this post, I am going to reflect on my overall journey and talk about my plans after my Ph.D.

How does it feel?

Well, my thesis did not have any groundbreaking results, but it still feels great to develop knowledge in this relatively less explored topic and contribute to it. I still feel proud about finishing my Ph.D. given a significantly high dropout rate. I was anxious for the past couple of months because the job search was not going as planned. But on the day of the defense, talking about my research and answering some technical and philosophical questions by the committee made me feel more confident about my abilities. Some people have already started calling me a ‘Doctor’. That also feels great! I also feel ‘free’ now that I have completed the degree requirement. 

Was it the right decision to do a Ph.D.?

This, however, I am not so sure. On one hand, I do value the skills I have learned and there is of course the value of the degree itself. It opened doors for many different career paths that were not accessible otherwise. But on the other hand, I also feel that I paid too much to gain these skills and the degree in terms of opportunity cost. Before starting my Ph.D. I was already working on operations research and my job paid very well. In hindsight, I think there were other paths that could at least help me learn those skills without taking a huge cut in my salary. I have found myself complaining about finances, especially during the last year when inflation hit hard. Many of these other paths would not give me the degree of course. And I do see that there is a value of the degree itself (regardless of the skills). I now think that a part-time Ph.D. would have made more sense and I should have tried harder to look for such opportunities. Obviously, a lot of Ph.D. advisors don’t like the idea of a part-time Ph.D. and I listened to some of them. 

Apart from the technical and research skills that I learned through my Ph.D., I also got quite a lot of free time to learn other stuff. The Ph.D. projects took only a small fraction of my working hours. So, I got to learn a lot of other things. I learned personal finance, psychology, writing (non-academic), chess, teaching, and more things that affect my life. I was oblivious to them before I left my job. I also started writing blogs and created a YouTube channel. In retrospect, a lot of these were guided by the financial and other life issues that were introduced by my Ph.D. program either directly or indirectly. These issues provided the necessary drive that helped me grow. So, in that sense, I do not regret my experience. 

Based on my experience, I advise new Ph.D. students two things: (a) go for a part-time Ph.D. if possible, and (b) work on your productivity so you can find time to do all these other things that are not part of your Ph.D. projects. 

What’s next?

Well, the plan is to continue feeling proud at least for a week! Unfortunately, I could not find a good position where I would get to work on discrete optimization solvers. Bad job market in general. I am going to accept a software engineering job position. I will get to learn more about other areas of computer science that I found interesting during my undergraduate studies. So still trying to maximize my learnings. I will continue working on my YouTube channel in my free time. That will involve reading papers, teaching, and occasionally working on personal projects I am genuinely interested in. Just last week, the channel touched the 50 subscribers mark. Thank you for your love and support! 

But before I start working, I will be taking a short break. I will be traveling to nearby cities. I will still attend ISMP in July and give a talk about my recent project at ZIB which was not part of my Ph.D. thesis. This break will also allow me to plan my move out of Montreal and get a post-graduate work permit (PGWP).

My favorites

Video: What’s happening at CERN? (Cleo)

Quote: "Be more dedicated to making solid achievements than in running after swift but synthetic happiness,"—Wings of Fire by Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.