At the end of WS-DLer academic tenures, it is customary to provide lessons learned, recommendations, and recaps of their academic experiences useful to future WS-DLers and grad students. Rather than recap the work that we have documented in published papers, I will echo some of my advice and lessons learned for what it takes to be a successful Ph.D. student.
Primarily, I learned that working while pursuing a Ph.D. is a bad idea. I worked at The MITRE Corporation throughout my doctoral studies. It took a massive amount of discipline, a massive amount of sacrifice (from myself, friends, and family), a forfeiture of any and all free time and sleep, and a near-lethal amount of coffee. Unless a student's "day job" aligns or overlaps significantly with her doctoral studies (I got close, but no cigar), I strongly recommend against doing this.
I learned that a robust support system (family, friends, advisor, etc.) is essential to being a successful graduate student. I am lucky that June is patient and tolerant of my late nights and irritability during paper season, my family supported my sacrifices and picked up the proverbial slack when I was at conferences or working late, and that Dr. Nelson dedicates an exceptional portion of his time to his students. (Did I say that just like you scripted, Dr. Nelson?) I learned to challenge myself and ignore the impostor syndrome.
I learned that a Ph.D. is life-consuming, demanding of 110% of a student's attention, and hard -- despite evidence to the contrary (i.e., they let me graduate) -- they don't give these things away. I also learned about what real, capital-R "Research" involves, how to do it, and the impact that it has. This is a lesson that I am applying to my day job and current endeavors.
I learned to network. While I don't subscribe to the adage "It's not what you know, it's who you know", I will say that knowing people makes things much easier, more valuable, more impactful, and essential to success. However, if you don't know the "what", knowing the "who" is useless.
I learned that not all Ford muscle cars are Mustangs (even though they are clearly the best), that it's best to root for VT athletics (or at least pretend), that I am terrible at commas, and that giving your advisors homebrew with your in-review paper submissions certainly can't hurt; the best collaborations and brainstorming sessions often happen outside of the office and over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.
Finally, I learned that finishing my Ph.D. before my son arrived was one of the best things I've done -- even if mostly by luck and divine intervention. I have thoroughly enjoyed spending the energy previously dedicated to staying up late, writing papers, and pounding my head against my keyboard to spending time with June, Brayden, and my family.
Despite these hard lessons and a difficult ~5 years, pursuing a doctorate has been a great experience and well worth the hard work. I look forward to continued involvement with the WS-DL group, ODU, my dissertation committee, and sharing my many lessons learned with future students.
--Dr. Justin F. Brunelle