Several things have changed since the last vlog I uploaded in January. For the most part, I have been released from the ‘bench’ doing desktop work and moved more into the practical side of my degree. This has come as a huge relief seeing that it has been many months since I first registered as a PhD student. Maybe let us start from the beginning. As the year commenced, I made my way to Pietermaritzburg to start my contact face-to-face, the component of my PhD instead of the online work we all did during COVID-19. I first arrived and started by re-writing a proposal that I had written and re-submitted it. As months went by I wrote a review paper for submission for publication, which I must say was interesting. This is because I have written a review paper for my master’s work, but as I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the pressures of being a PhD student is wanting to become the best and produce quality work. I struggled for the first few months of the year. One of the struggles was finding the novelty in the study, which was mentally draining since my work is a continuation of the work I did in my master’s. I read a lot of articles on how to find the novelty in your work, and one interesting blog on this topic interpreted this well. The blog articulates how one can look at the merit of their study even before they publish it in any journal or write a proposal for their PhD. My supervisor’s strategy is to write a proposal and review it for six months, to familiarize oneself with literature to an extent that when you go to the lab, it should be just that. Being in a new place means new rules, and this made me uneasy. I was coming to the lab to see other students who registered with me or even after I start their lab work. But I had to trust my supervisor and the process. In the six months, I did submit my review paper and started going to the lab officially end of August. It has not been bliss; it has been even more difficult than I thought.
Unfortunately, in as much as I had thought I had prior experience of working with the materials (porphyrins), I am also learning a lot through my many failed experiments and giving a scientific explanation as to why they did not work. Growth is never easy, as most people would attest, but it also comes with the satisfaction of more knowledge and discipline. At this point of my PhD, I am working through the synthesis of my starting materials, porphyrins to be specific, and obtaining the purest product from NMR which is one of an organic chemist’s biggest nightmares. Am I satisfied with my pace? Not really, but I am moving and I am patient with it all.
I have also over a couple of months learned about the power of collaboration, which I also spoke about in one of my past blogs. I have come to admit and be open to help, to help, and being helped by my colleagues in terms of everything. I have come to terms with the fact that we don’t often know it all and speaking out loud may help the work to progress. Moreover, to that, it may even ease your mental health. Speaking of which, I am continuing with therapy and it has been amazing, not only do I have new perspectives to look at life but I am slowly becoming an independent thinker and a critical one too. Many people often ask the question of what I wake up to do each morning and my answer is always simple: I wake up and go to the lab. I know it requires more work than it sounds, but the video attached to the blog displays a typical day in my life, which will explain further what I mean.