Getting a postgraduate qualification is challenging, but the end results are exciting

“We” look like we have it all under control. But postgraduate studies are hard and at times frustrating. You would think we have it all planned-out. That is not true. The process of getting a postgraduate degree is tiring, circuitous, hard and at times a little depressing. Choosing topics, writing proposals, approaching prospective supervisors, choosing institutions and applying for funding… it is just a lot.  We are forever hopeful that it will get better after completing a certain degree, but it never does. It feels like the higher you go the ‘crazier’ it becomes.  When I completed my Honours, I though it will be easy to get into a Masters programme with funding but it was never like that, I struggled for a while without any funding. I only got funding towards the end of my first year of Masters.

I am saying all this in relation to my plans to enrol for a PhD. These are plans which have been in motion ever since I got my Masters. According to my timeline, by now I was supposed to have already been registered and progressing through my PhD, but it is only now that my registration processes are about to be concluded. There is still a question of funding, which is a headache. I realised during my Masters that pursing a post-graduate degree without stable funding can take its toll on a student. You worry simultaneously on your research and your finances – how to pay for accommodation, fees and your everyday upkeep. Its stressful and I hope to never go through that pain again.

I honestly think these factors and all the others we often also shy away from should be talked about more openly, not to scare prospective student away but to give them a heads-up. Often, post-graduate students struggle, especially financially, and this affects all the aspects of the student’s life.  We do say that completing a postgraduate qualification is difficult, but usually we only focus on the actual research, the dissertation that we must write, and not the financial implications of being a postgraduate level students. These two are inseparable. We must talk about them as one.

In all honesty, completing a post-graduate degrees takes a lot of courage, will, determination and passion for research. But of course, with all these ups and downs and all of that, there are those of us who never think about giving up. I guess this is the will and determination I am talking about. Getting the qualification, against all odds. I am the first in my family to get a Master’s degree and I have seen how it has brightened up those around me and have given them hope and a reason to go to university, and I am not going to stop until I get my PhD. Despite the many challenges that come with pursuing a postgraduate qualification, I want to be counted among the strong and brave, the go-getters and the intellectuals. I want a PhD and I am going to get it. Do not get me wrong, this is a two-sided coin. There are exciting and thrilling moments too.

A day in the life of a PhD student – lab work, student supervision, COVID-19 vaccination assistance

We currently live in an era of everchanging regulations and permissible daily activities due to the measures taken to curb the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, I shared a vlog detailing what my typical day as a PhD student looks like. That was quite early in the year, and it was less busy at that time. At the moment, I am busier than I was back then, and have decided to share some of my current daily activities in another vlog post, see video below:

The year has gotten quite busy, and my typical day consists of assisting/supervising students and lots of lab work as shown in the vlog above. In addition to the activities shown in the vlog, I sometimes assist with COVID-19 vaccinations at the University of Pretoria’s vaccination site. The University of Pretoria was the first academic institution in South Africa to set up a COVID-19 vaccination site. Staff members from the University and the general public can access the vaccination site. Students from our Faculty of Health Sciences volunteer to assist with administrative procedures during vaccinations, and I also volunteered to assist, especially when students are not available.

A photo of me working at the University of Pretoria’s COVID-19 vaccination site

At the vaccination site, I either conduct administrative work or help out at the site pharmacy, where we prepare the vaccines for injection. The vaccination site opens from Tuesday to Thursday, and I unfortunately filmed the vlog on a Friday, therefore, I did not get a chance to show the activities I conduct at the vaccination site. As a PhD student, we normally do not get to interact with the public, and so assisting at the vaccination site has honestly been a worthwhile experience, as we interact with individuals from different backgrounds. I hope that during the festive holidays, I will spend more time at the vaccination site, and share another vlog that details my activities at the site. I hope this current vlog does provide you with a glimpse into the life of a typical PhD student.