Starting your PhD – Start as you mean to go on…

Graduation seems like only yesterday, maybe it only was yesterday! Nevertheless, the applause has now diminished to a somber “well done” from family members and peers in  your class; all those nerves and anxious thoughts about going up on stage in your prestigious gown have now somehow simmered down and your brain is beginning to reclaim its normal thought process – Congratulations, you are now ready to move on to the next chapter on your life! #phdlife.

By this point, you will have a mix of feelings; you will either be in the stage where you are still over the moon about the prospect of starting a wonderful, exciting new project you’re extremely passionate about, or you will be rather nervous at the thought of moving on to something even more difficult than the degree you just spent 3 years getting through (or both!).

The day finally comes, after a few months of rest in between (holiday somewhere exotic) when you enter your new laboratory, greeted by fresh faces offering you their support and a warm welcome.  This is the start of your new journey, geared towards preparing you for a life of intense yet rewarding research.  These are your colleagues, friends and family that will be there through the successful experiments and the not-so-successful experiments.

For the next 3+ years of your life you will take charge of your own project and be responsible for the path it takes.  By pushing yourself and strategically planning every step of the way you can ensure that you succeed despite adversity.  Do not get downhearted on days where experiments don’t work as you expected; take a break when you have a string of these bad experiments to help refresh your mind.  Sometimes taking a step back can give you a fresh perspective and allow you to have a new insight into your experimental problems.

When you first achieve good results, you will want to present them at conferences so that you can engage with the scientific community and get the invaluable feedback required to improve yourself.  While at conferences, try and network/talk to people from other laboratories and other areas of study as this will broaden your mind and encourage you to have different outlook on your own work.  Ask other people what they think of your research and if they have any unique insights which you may have missed.  Reciprocate and do the same for them; in this way, both of you will get something beneficial from the conversation.

(Remember –  there are always multiple ways to solve the same problem.)

Throughout your time doing your PhD, you will have ups and downs (this is natural); keep striving to do the absolute best you can and push yourself.  No one said a PhD was easy, but this does not mean it cannot be enjoyable (acquiring your own set of paradigm-shifting results can be strangely invigorating!).

A word of caution; before even thinking about applying for a PhD, I would ask that you be honest with yourself about whether or not you are truly passionate about the project area. If you are not, that’s OK (there are plenty of subject areas out there!) but it will only make it harder to carry out a PhD on the topic;  and this will become even more apparent during stressful times. So I encourage you to stop and think; a PhD is not to be entered into lightly, a great deal of time should be taken to consider whether or not it is the right path for you.

Finally, for all the PhD students out there currently undertaking a PhD, I wish you the very best in completing your thesis and experiments in the coming months and years.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog; I hope it has been helpful. Please leave any comments below or contact me on Twitter (@drmikeographer).

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