I was supposed to post something which I’d thought of a while ago, then came back to and remarkably lost interest (my method of procrastinating no longer feels like procrastinating, so I now need something new), so anyway, I was thinking of going back to it today…but a conversation with one of my colleagues has changed my mind.
We were talking, as two PhD students would, about the ‘admin’ side of things and the frustrations associated with the fact that despite being told that you need to take control, no one is actually willing to give you control. So I thought to myself (out loud), what would I have wanted to know before I started this ‘journey’? For starters, it’d have been nice to have been told that things don’t work at the pace you’re ready to work at…everything depends on everything else. So what I’ve done is, I’ve made a list of the 5 key things which I think everyone embarking on a PhD should appreciate. I’ve learnt these things from experience and I certainly appreciate them.
Number One: And perhaps the most important, your colleagues. These are the people you are working with everyday and in most cases they will be your first point of contact for all things ‘research’ related. Now it may be different for different people and places, but certainly where I’m at I don’t see my supervisor very much and the techniques I’ve learnt have been directly from my colleagues. If you’re nice to your colleagues not only does it mean that when you start to panic (and have a bit of a meltdown like me) they’ll be here to help, but it also makes the lab a less mundane place to be.
Number Two: I can’t tell you how important starting your write up is, and there will be plenty of people to remind you. You can either a) nod your head with no intention of listening, or you could b) actually listen and follow their guidance. People are generally very helpful and although you may come across a few who aren’t, most want you to succeed and make the right start. Starting your writing up and writing whilst you’re still collecting data may seem like you’re trying to run before you can walk, but in the long run (Haha, get it? “run”) it’ll mean that you will spend more time tweaking and less time feeling frustrated. And as I’ve heard from so many of my colleagues (and academics), the write up can be a great thing or the worst thing about your PhD.
Number Three: This really is YOUR project, even if it doesn’t feel like it just yet. Your supervisor may have ideas of what they’d like you to look at, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and look at what piques your interest. It shows that you care about the project you’re looking at, but it also helps keep you motivated (something which you’ll find rapidly dwindle in the years to come). Not only is this sense of ownership associated with the practical side of things, it should also filter down to the way you approach things. When I started, I felt completely lost…a bit like a headless chicken (still do sometimes). No one was telling me anything, and I had to use my initiative to find out how things worked (ordering system, the right protocols etc.) and what I was supposed to do and who I was supposed to contact. If you have this attitude in mind before you start, it makes things seem a little less scary; and importantly, keep your end point in mind, and don’t let yourself get distracted from it (well…not too much. If you want to finish in three years, make sure that you’re as close to that as possible!).
Number Four: A bit like Number One really, the technicians and support staff. Just like your colleagues, make these people your best friend! They are so helpful in so many ways, that I can’t even begin to describe. At first they make seem a little daunting, but be open to them. These are the people who know what they’re doing (mostly!) and even if they don’t, they’ll find a way to help you. They know who to contact and what equipment you need, and what to do if crucially that ‘equipment’ doesn’t work. They’ve been there a lot longer than you have and will have seen the best and the worst, it doesn’t hurt to ask for their opinion every now and then. I depend a lot on my technicians and I find that they will have very useful ideas, sometimes things that you haven’t thought of yourself. And they are a major help with ordering reagents etc. they can tell you where things are cheaper and who you need to sign off on your orders, they’re basically awesome!
Number Five: A major cliché, but a necessary one…enjoy it. The start of your PhD can be very scary and frustrating but don’t let that keep you from enjoying things. You’re taking on a massive challenge like a PhD because you love that topic (science!) and you want to actively research that area. What you’ll learn during your PhD is invaluable, it’s essentially the start of your research career but that doesn’t mean that it should dictate your life. Make sure you get a hobby, the last thing you want is to eat, drink, sleep and breathe just your ‘PhD’ (it may seem a heck of a lot easier to isolate yourself…and I know that I do it often, but don’t!). So when things get tough (and they do), don’t get tough on yourself, talk to people, everyone is willing to listen and advise! And if they’re not, then start a blog and vent your frustrations…and let me know, I’ll follow it!
Peace out. NQ
PS. Does anyone know when the new Tom Thorne novel is coming out?