How to stay motivated while studying for an online PhD

01 FEB 2023 By Maria S
How to stay motivated while studying for an online PhD

Working and studying for an online PhD

An online PhD is not for the faint-hearted. If you have completed a Master’s or a Bachelor’s degree online or on campus, you are definitely acquainted with tight deadlines on assignments and examinations. How do you work through four or five eight-week/twelve-week modules that take a month-long and a PhD examination and still find time to complete your dissertation?

Although I work as a full-time accountant and I am a mum of three teenagers, I still get on with my PhD programme. Keep reading below to find out how I stay motivated while studying for my online PhD degree. I set an eight-step plan that worked for me and I am glad to be sharing it with you in the below lines.

Stay motivated with a plan

Create a vision board with your goals

Stick a board of your goals to your desk at work or home and keep an online copy to remind you of the journey ahead. The board brings your online PhD journey “to life”. Later, you will be congratulating yourself with a gift for each milestone you achieve throughout your journey. Take my word for it.

Time management

No one is going to help you make time to write your weekly assignments, but you. You might have a short or long essay to complete every week. Hence, you need to be disciplined and plan your daily schedule accordingly. In addition, it would be beneficial to let your family know of your commitments and you might have to outsource domestic duties if you could.

Moreover, you could get to the office early or stay until late to study after work. If you work from home, adopt a study plan to read for two to three hours a day and stick to it. You could also inform your colleagues and superiors that you are back at university so they can help you work out a flexible work schedule to accommodate your academic work. You could also commit to studying on the bus or train while commuting and prepare yourself for the week ahead during the weekends.

This is not a sprint, it is a marathon and quite similar to the military; it requires determination, focus and diligence.

Invest in academic tools

Make sure to have a good laptop or a tablet to read and write your assignments. You need a good internet connection and a quiet space, too. Also, Moodle app might come in handy while studying online. The application is an open-source learning management platform for online learning that enables you to create online courses, add assignments, share course material with other learners and monitor your progress.

In addition, the ProShare library is a robust centre for journals, papers and books needed for your coursework and dissertation. Familiarise yourself with the environment, create a profile and save relevant references for future use. Another great tool to use is EndNote, a reference management software that helps you manage bibliographies and references when writing essays, reports and articles.

As a PhD student, you need to invest in books and subscribe to academic journals to further enrich your academic resources.

Plan each assignment

Brush up your grammar and familiarise yourself with how to write academically. Moreover, it is important to continuously improve your skills and make the most of your online studies. Unicaf’s blog has so many articles and tips on it.

Start with a list of points and build on them. Lay out your arguments and justify them accordingly with references. Unicaf’s VLE platform is rich in lecture notes, videos and guidelines to follow. An online PhD teaches you to work independently and extract the right information and data you need.

Create a folder for each module and save all weekly assignments, e.g. LEADERSHIP FOLDER. Week 1 assignment, Week 2 assignment. This would help you access all your assignments for future purposes. Submit everything on time and if you experience any difficulties, ask for support.

Ask for help

When in doubt about any issue always ask your adviser and if you have any challenges please let the doctoral college know on time. Use approved media to communicate. Studying online may make you feel isolated but the chat box is a huge window to the world. 

Get to know your classmates and link up with them to share ideas. Attend relevant modules and seminars in Unicaf and elsewhere relating to your field while you can. The more you deepen your knowledge, the stronger your writing and research become. It is like gold in the fire; your writing improves and you become an excellent researcher with time.

Write your online PhD yourself

You may start out shaky and not very composed and professional in your essays. However, the more you write, the stronger your arguments and justifications become. Do not outsource work to third parties. It would backfire as you would not have gained the requisite understanding of the topic. The lack of content would be revealed during presentations.

Unicaf has good supervisors who are always available to support you. Be respectful and take advice and feedback in good faith. Be teachable and ask friends and colleagues to help you out in specific areas but always do the work yourself

Avoid plagiarism

As enticing as it is to copy and paste essays, please refrain from doing so. You should use only approved tools to help you with your writing and reference properly. In this way, you will be able to effectively apply these practices in the final dissertation work.

When I complete my assignment, I submit it to the Turnitin software and when my score comes up, I adjust for the areas I have been queried. It is also important to address all the issues raised before submitting it a second time to ensure you are within the allowed Turnitin limit.

Join communities of students and peers

Since PhD degrees test one’s limits, you need to keep in touch with like-minded people to stay motivated. A good way to do so is to join communities in order to network and meet new colleagues. Personally, I never allow negativity to affect my performance. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed as I am not a super-human, so I take time off work to refuel my mind and then get back to it with greater energy and motivation. An online PhD programme is flexible enough to allow you to take breaks in between modules if needed. Still, do not stay away too long as you start to forget concepts. Come back in time to “exercise your academic limbs.”

Be the next one!

Keep your vision board up, your goals in sight and strive for excellence. If others could make it, you can make it, too! A PhD is worth every penny and the whole effort. Upon completion of your online PhD, you will become an asset to your community and country.

Adeola Temitope Aina, PhD Business Administration – Unicaf University Malawi