Wednesday, 26 October 2016

What being a PhD student has taught me...so far

The leaves are falling and the air is getting cooler. It is autumn time. October is here and it’s time to look forward to Halloween, Guy Fawkes and of course Christmas. For me October marks the end of my first year as a PhD student and the beginning of year two. So rather than looking forward to the exciting festivities to come please stick with me as I look back on the past year and reflect on all I have learned…or not.




1. It’s okay to be scared
Everyone talks about the leap from school to university but no one really speaks of that moment you decide to stay at university as a PhD student. You are thrust into a world where you are in control of the learning and there is no syllabus to follow. No exams. No lectures. You have a degree (or two) and you are expected to use it. Of course you are scared!! One person taking on this new world is bound to have some trepidation. I was lucky in that I am part of a cohort and when I started so did another 12 people. I remember on that first day walking into a room with a few other frightened faces, all thinking “is this the right room”? Of course it was! But after overcoming my first year I am here to say that it’s normal! Everyone has those fears! My first presentation was in front of some real industry heavy people and after that the fear just goes. All you need to remember is that everyone, including your supervisor, was in the same position as you.

2. You don’t have to know everything
It’s good to remember that being a PhD student does not make you the expert in the field! Yes you should be the person who knows the most about a particular set of experiments you are carrying out but you don’t need to know everything. There have been researchers in the field much longer than you have so when asked a question and you don’t know the answer…don’t make something up! I’ve learned, on many occasions, to say I don’t know. I like to call these moments-future experiments! Take inspiration from gaps in your knowledge and find out the answer.


3. The office is not a competition of who stays the latest
I used to picture a PhD student practically living in a lab, connected to an IV of coffee and crying over data. I have come to realise that you don’t need to spend every hour in the lab…and definitely not on a weekend. It might be different in other research groups but I stick to roughly 9-5. Yes there are times I come in early and have to stay late but I like to balance those days with an early finish. There is no need to compete with the person next to you over when you get into the office and when you leave. Go home when the work is done and relax until tomorrow. Then repeat!

4. You can say no
I struggle with this one and if I am honest I don’t really say no an awful lot when it comes to taking on extra work. A part of that is I love being busy and the other part was because I was the young enthusiastic first year with relatively low stress. However the further into my PhD I go I know I can’t say yes to everything…somethings will need sacrificed. After all the main goal is getting my PhD.

5. A PhD is fun
Yes really!!! Despite all the hard work and sometimes repeatedly failing experiments-this past year has been amazing! I’ve met lots of new and interesting people, I’ve travelled around the UK and even got the opportunity to go to America for a week! How cool is that!? We have Cake Fridays, there is always a social at the end of the month and of course Halloween and Christmas parties! With a PhD you take the bad with the good and the good can be amazing!

6. I can do it!
This is the most important lesson of all! All the doubts and fears I had from the first few weeks have gone away! Yes I know there will be tough times ahead but I am faring well so far so yeah I GOT THIS! And you do too!

Here's to the next year full of fun, stress and more learning.

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34 comments

  1. Good lessons learned. I think it's smart to take that first year and learn and get into a pattern.

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    1. Yeah the first year can be just as important as the last! :)

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  2. Great post for anyone starting out, good luck for the coming year x

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    1. Thank you! It's both scary and exciting! :) x

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  3. Inspirational for new students starting out and great writing style! U are also fortunate to have a wonderful lab manager-post doc hybrid around ;-p

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    1. Thank you! Wonderful isn't exactly the word I would use :p

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  4. I like the post idea of what you've learnt. Well done on taking the leap to phd, it's very brave :) thanks for sharing your experiences

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  5. I just started my masters and I have to keept reminding myself I can do this and I dont need to know everything. Great post

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  6. I also struggle to say no but am getting better at this. Good luck in year 2 x

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  7. Awesome! I completed my Phd and know exactly what you mean. Good luck with it!

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  8. It must take a lot of organisation and internal strength to plan everything yourself and stay on top of it. You should be proud x

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  9. Number three is such a vital lesson to learn in life and work! Congrats on completing your first year!

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  10. I think learning to say no is a really important life lesson in general.

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  11. What a great post! It's taken me a long time to realise that it is ok to say no.

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  12. I'm getting much, much better about saying no. You're going to do so great as you continue this journey.

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  13. Number 4 is super important - I need to learn to say no more often. I often end up doing work foe others that I reall don't want to do.

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  14. Awesome, I'm with all the way. Doing a degree was enough for me. xx

    www.annanuttall.com

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  15. My mummy did a Masters after her degree, so totally gets this post and it was daunting starting another course afresh while her friends all started on the career ladder. She did what was best for her and it was the right decision as it helped her land a role that she loves and set her apart from the rest :) Self belief is important at this stage! Good luck xx

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  16. What a great post for people considering this route xx

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  17. Number 4 is such an important one! So many good lessons learnt x

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  18. Good on you for starting your phd, will all be worth it in the end, Dr! xxx

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  19. Well done you! Best of luck with the rest of your education, and I wish you all the best with it :)

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  20. What a lovely post. I can imagine it is such a stressful course but always good to look back on the positives!

    www.sparklesatmidnight.com

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  21. Well done on starting your PHD! And what great lessons you've learned so far. It's taken me forever to realise that it is ok to say no x

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  22. If nothing else these sound like really good life lessons! Well done on the Phd lovely :)

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  23. Great post for anyone wanting to go to university! Good luck for the rest of uni :)

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  24. Great tips! I am planning on doing a PhD soon! :)
    http://lilinhaangel.com/

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  25. You always learn so much being a student, it was one of my best times of my life!

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  26. You can do it,and also have fun along the way just try not to take on too much ;-)

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  27. Well done on doing a PHD. It will be so worth it am sure.

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  28. This is going to be awesome! You tend to appreciate it all the more at this stage of learning. I did a masters and loved it.

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  29. This was fascinating and I am glad you are enjoying it. One of my work colleagues is finding it much harder than he thought it was going be!

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  30. Glad you are enjoying it, and so true about not trying to stop the latest - work life balance is so important.

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  31. It sounds like you're enjoying it and that's matters the most, isn't it? I understand how scary it might be not to have exams or syllabus, but it sounds like you've got it all under control. Good luck for this 2nd year!

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