The Life of a PhD Student

Marieke Musegaas and Nick Huberts are PhD students at the Department of Econometrics and OR. Marieke’s field of research is cooperative game theory and especially OR-games. She likes doing sports, playing board games and going on holidays. Nick’s field of research applies game theory to a Real Options setting which analyzes strategic investment decisions under uncertainty. He likes to play (board) games, discover the secrets of Europe’s beautiful nature, attend festivals and study Hermetic and Thelemic traditions.

What is the story behind the two of us becoming PhD students? What will we do afterwards? Probably you have seen our faces during the tutorials of some first-year courses. You might even have bumped into one of us in the city center and wondered: do these people have a life apart from university? All that made us decide to tell you a bit about our life as a PhD student.

This adventure took off in the summer of 2008, at the TOP week (back then known as TIK week). After three years of bachelor EOR, we continued with our master programs (Marieke ORMS and Nick QFAS). During these years, the option to go for a PhD was introduced to us. But, in order to apply for this job, a research master is required. Since we were not yet bored from studying we decided to go for a fifth year at Tilburg University. Finally, in 2013, we started with our PhD.

A PhD program consists of three years of research and teaching. During these years you focus on at least three different subjects, while writing papers about the research you perform, together with your supervisors. In the final stage you write a book, containing the past three years’ research, which you defend before a committee of professors from Tilburg and many other (international) places.

Three years seems a long period, but time flies

This might seem attractive, but what does it really look like? Although it may all sound very boring – three years of doing research all day – in practice this is not the case. Research knows many stages: writing a paper is very different from programming, which is again very different from modeling a problem. Working on different projects with different people at the same time makes doing a research a dynamic and diversified process. This research is not only done in TiSEM’s dollhouse, the K-building offices, we also go (abroad) for seminars, present on conferences and go for research visits. Besides that, there is teaching, grading of exams and assignments, and we take part in the supervision of students.

Despite that this may all sound very nice, not all that glitters is gold. Three years seems a long period, but time flies, and before you know you can smell the committee’s breath. Unfortunately, since there is only one year left for us, we cannot reveal to you whether this smell is pleasant or not. Besides that, the post-PhD job market is very competitive. Even though many PhD students already decided not to pursue a career in academia, there are still very few places available compared to the number of PhD students.

Nevertheless, we enjoy the flexibility of our jobs. For most days we are free to choose when and where to work and we have quite some freedom in choosing our holidays. Moreover, the working environment in our department is informal and friendly. There is a nice group of fellow PhD students with whom, from time to time, we go for some social activities.

Text by: Marieke Musegaas & Nick Huberts