As I cross the halfway checkpoint of my Ph.D. studies, I am filled with a sense of awe and a hint of panic. As I previously described, there are many reasons to undertake a Ph.D. in Biology (here). But aside from the grand reasons for starting on this path, I find myself asking if there were any insights I’ve gained that I’d never anticipated. In this post, I want to share three key moments in my Ph.D. thus far that have influenced how I view research and academia in general.
The best-laid plans of men and mice often go awry
Like many before me, when I began my studies I had grand intentions of how my experiments would proceed and had contingency plans. But, as I progress through my studies I realised that research is not as linear as I had anticipated. Now, I know what I’m saying is no news to many of you. But, for someone who has OCD tendencies and perfectionist attributes it is hard sometimes to “just go with the flow” as my cousin would say. I found it extremely difficult to let go and accept the new path unfolding in front of me. This experience has taught me that even with the best-laid plans, in research there must always be room for unexpected turns along the way and I now take solace in that fact.
The road to academic success is paved with collaborations
Increasing advancements in science and technology have made it possible for scientists from different fields to find common ground and work together. I have found attending seminars outside of my narrow field of research not only provides a much-needed mental escape, but also increases the likelihood of meeting scientists who could provide a fresh perspective on my work. As I previously mentioned, identifying a possible collaborator is important, but also maintaining those collaborations. All great scientists of our time have all echoed this message – science does not flourish in a vacuum!
The pursuit of a Ph.D. is lonesome
Yes, I know I just talked about meeting new people. But getting a PhD is perhaps the loneliest journey you’ll ever undertake, and nobody talks about it! Let me explain — nobody else on this planet will be as invested in your project as you, and only you have the power to make it a success. There will be times when even you will grow tired of saying “No, sorry I cannot join you today; I have to run a gel/experiment”, and your project starts invading and occupying every thought that comes into your mind. Ultimately, it all falls on you, and you really will feel alone. But, I do not want to leave you with just a one-sided story; just as nobody is as invested in your project, nobody is as EXCITED about your project as you. ALWAYS remember that! The passion will carry you through.
As I reflect on how far I have come in the short time I have been here, I am filled with excitement when I think about what the future holds. There is nowhere I would rather be than this exact point in time/space (Well, maybe somewhere high up in the Cederberg 🙂 ).