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Dr. Johan Svenson is an experienced Physics teacher. He taught physics in Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment for 5 years and was an adjunct faculty at MIU before he became a full-time faculty 6 years ago. He was my Physics teacher in the MVS Master’s program. Physics was never my strong area, nor was I interested in the subject. However, Johan’s “sweet and simple” style of teaching made me a fan of the subject!


Dr. Svenson recently finished his PhD dissertation. I asked him about his experience with the PhD study. Now, you will hear his journey and also his advice to anyone starting or thinking about doing the PhD.

Dr. Svenson’s  dissertation is related to one of Maharishi’s latest projects: the Invincible America Assembly (IA). It was structured in 2006 to develop higher states of consciousness in a large number of people simultaneously, with the side effect of creating invincibility for the United States. Soon after the course started, Maharishi asked the IA participants to write up their experiences. These experiences were collected and published in a book. Each experience was printed alongside a corresponding section from the Veda and Vedic Literature, a quote from Raja Raam’s book, scientific research, and explanation from modern physics. Dr. Svenson’s dissertation was on writing explanations for the IA experiences from modern physics.


Dr. John Hagelin’s Physics class

Naturally, Dr. Hagelin would be the most qualified person to handle such a project. But, because of his busy schedule, he asked Johan to take it over. Johan declined the offer at first because he was working on another PhD thesis at the time. Dr. Hagelin proposed that writing the physical explanations for the IA experiences could be Johan’s thesis. Johan agreed, and switched his topic for the dissertation.

Dr. Hagelin and Johan worked together off and on for three years. This was an enjoyable time for Johan. “There were times when I was going to his house 3 times a week and we sat in his office or meditation room and discussed physical aspects of individual experiences,” remembers Dr. Svenson. Usually, he read the experience at home, wrote a physical explanation, and then discussed it with Dr. Hagelin. “That was very nice of him and I’m grateful to him for setting up this time,” says Dr. Svenson.


Dr. Travis’ Physiology class

Technically, Dr. Travis was Johan’s supervisor. However, on the day when Johan defended his dissertation in front of the audience, Dr. Travis asked Dr. Hagelin to sign the dissertation. Working with Dr. Hagelin was Dr. Svenson’s favorite part of his work on the dissertation.

Since a PhD is such a challenging thing to do, a proper approach and good planning can save one years of additional work. Dr. Svenson’s first advice is related to the academic advisors of a PhD student: “Find a group of advisors who are very supportive of you and your topic, and also who work well with you personally. You have to resonate with them and have the same vision of academics as they have, if you want to have a good long-term working relationship with your advisors.”

This is important because, even if just one of your advisors has a different perspective of what a PhD dissertation should be like than you do, then you are setting yourself up for a lot of difficulties. Sometimes, a few years into the dissertation, one of the advisors wants you to make some fundamental changes and that can mean years of additional work!

Making sure that your proposal is very explicit so that there is no ambiguity later on what is going to be done for your dissertation can save you some additional work.

Johan’s second piece of advice is to pick a topic that you absolutely love. You will be immersed in it for several years. Laughing, Dr. Svenson said, “What happens is that you eventually hate it. By the time you start hating it you need to be almost entirely finished if you’re going to make it to the end.”

Spiral-bound_notebooksPeople tend to be very ambitious when it comes to their PhD thesis. “It’s their major academic achievement, so they want to make it great and special,” says Dr. Svenson. “But my advice is to keep it simple; your academic advisors will be ambitious enough. If you have many ideas, just write them down and decide at the end whether to elaborate on them or not. There will be plenty of time after the dissertation to craft an opus.”

One more thing that you can expect from doing the PhD: it will show you how disciplined you are. It takes a lot of management skills and discipline to make a PhD journey a comfortable ride. It is like a marathon: a slow and steady pace will get you far and bring you comfortably to the end.

Dr. Svenson worked 6 years on his PhD thesis and was relieved when the hard work ended. The result is a wonderful and unique book featuring many who have devoted their lives for spiritual development. Johan’s contribution will help to bridge the gap between physics and people’s inner experiences, between science and spirituality. We congratulate Dr. Svenson for his work and his contribution to science and wish him many successful projects in the future!