Interesting Decisions

Seth Godin writes recently of “the magic of trade-offs” – an idea that resonated with my own memories of doing a PhD.

  • I remember writing only a few paragraphs about an application for one of my results, because I knew my time would be better spent developing something else new.
  • I remember the pride when I worked out a neat method that saved a lot of calculation time in an algorithm – because I’d previously decided to wait and explore more before checking with my supervisor, though this was uncertain when I started my plan.
  • And I remember the trade-off (that paid off) when I decided to not apply for jobs as I was getting close to submission, to save my time and attention for getting my thesis as good as it could be.

I’m sure you must have made trade-offs in the process of doing a PhD. Another way of looking at trade-offs is that someone makes an interesting decision. There may be no right or wrong, but for now this is the choice. A consequence, doing a PhD, might be that other options are closed to you as a result of your interesting decision.

And another consequence might be that your examiners ask you to talk about or defend your interesting decisions in the viva. Not because you’re right or wrong, or because your examiners are – but because your decisions are interesting. They’re worth talking about and exploring.

In preparation for your viva, review your interesting decisions. Where did you trade-off different things? How did you make those decisions? What were your reasons?

And do you still think it was the right thing to do?