Trials and tribulations of higher study (and why it’s all worthwhile) 

Five PhD students share their experiences 

Current and former students talk about the obstacles faced throughout their research 


1. "If getting a PhD was easy, everyone would have one.” 

That advice from Jennifer Thompson’s PhD supervisor stuck with her for a decade while she completed her doctorate.  

“I completed my PhD in July 2022 after 10 years as a part-time student and full-time senior manager in local government. My challenges ranged from logistical to intellectual, to personal and I learned the truth of that statement.” 

- Jennifer Thomspson, School of Business

2. Rejection is real 

“You might think writing your article is the hard part but getting published for me was an epic battle.  

My first article was sent to review. After months and months, the news came: two reviewers recommended a revise and resubmit, and one rejected it outright. I rewrote the paper with the suggested comments from these reviewers and moved onto the next journal. 

The second journal had the same outcome. Only one rejection, from the three reviewers. Again, I made more recommended revisions. I really thought this would break me, but I survived and submitted to journal three.  

Journal three got back to me, I had a revise and resubmit decision with many, many changes. When I looked at all the changes, I wanted to crumble and withdraw it. Some of the changes I did not agree with or even understand. 

But this was my last push. Finally, it was accepted in a Q1 Journal for Psychology and Education.

- Davina Robson, School of Psychology

3. Writing in a second language 

“I breezed through my first two years whilst working a full-time job. Then came year three with the task of writing a research proposal. The ideas were there, but the clarity and communication skills to share the ideas on paper - not so much. 

In 2022 I have spent four agonising months inching forward, wondering whether I am cut out for this and how to approach the next stage of my PhD. 

During this year my supervisors and I would record our meetings and use this as a template for writing. I still enjoy the PhD process, however as a non-native English speaker it is challenging me. In my third year of the PhD, I see it is a journey and something not for the fainthearted.”

- Sabine Straver, School of Education 

 4. Expect the unexpected 

“Recently, I had results that ended up being the opposite of what I expected. I’ve taken this as an opportunity to re-evaluate my approach and understanding of research literature. My correspondence with my supervisory team has increased, providing a wealth of knowledge and experience to my approach of dealing with this ‘confound.. What seemed like a nightmare to me initially has led to a beneficial learning experience and made me reconsider how to approach research investigations in the future.” 

- Alexander Duda, School of Psychology

5. Asking for help

“I was very distressed by the civil unrest and protests for women’s rights in my birth country of Iran, aggravated by the internet shutdowns leaving me with limited access to family and friends, leading me to neglect some of my work. I finally wrote an email to everyone and explained the situation. Some of our team members stepped up to help and that gave me some time to recover from my mental toll.  

This situation taught me to always be upfront about any problem and trust that there is help available.” 

 - Elahe Minaei, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences

Are you thinking about pursuing a career in Higher Degree Research?  

The University of Wollongong offers a range of courses including PhD, integrated PhD and Master's by Research. See what option is right for you and advance your career in 2023