What I have learned so far…

The Fringe is officially over! I must admit the Fringe kind of grew on me this year and I actually attended a show yesterday night that I really enjoyed! Who would have thought? Although it was nice to see the city full of colourful posters and bustling with activity, I am looking forward to getting back to the peace and quiet. The Fringe is not the only thing that is over, the first year of my PhD is as well! Chronologically speaking at least, I have not yet had my presentation in front of my committee to see whether I can proceed to my second year…

For this post I have compiled a list of tips and things that I have learned throughout my first year. I will pass on all this invaluable knowledge to you dear blog-readers. As someone once said “Learning from your mistakes makes you smart, learning from other people’s mistakes makes you a genius.” I plan to turn you all into little geniuses! Learn from my mistakes and soak up all of my wisdom…

I learned this the hard way. 2 weeks before my 8-month report was due, my portable hard drive decided to die on me. You can not even begin to understand the panic that ensues after something like that happens. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone! Luckily I had backed up my hard drive onto my back-up hard drive a few weeks before, so I only lost 3 weeks’- worth of analysis. I still had all of my raw imaging files on another computer so I was able to reanalyse everything (which was a pain, but better than losing everything). You should always have your data in more than one place. And ideally don’t keep all of the stored data in the same physical place i.e. your backpack in case it gets trampled upon by Fringe-goers or Freshers and your laptop gets destroyed and your hard drives become unreadable. Needless to say, I am now paranoid.

Back up the back-up of your data!
Have I mentioned that I am now paranoid? I now have 3 portable external hard drives, my Dropbox for my GraphPad files and spreadsheets as well as the lab’s communal hard drives. I would also recommend backing each of them up regularly. I’m not saying to do it everyday (though in an ideal world that would be the case) but when you are debating whether or not you should back it up, just think of all the time and effort put into collecting and analysing all the data. I’m sure you will find time in your schedule to back it up. Future you will thank you. Speaking from experience, it is much better to be safe than sorry.

Accept the fact that the PhD will take over your life.
That being said, make sure that you do have a balanced work/non-work life, or as a fellow PhD student put it, Friday night at a pub! I am willing to bet that most people doing a PhD in the field of Biomedical Sciences cannot succeed in completing it in 3 years by only working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Just give in and surrender to the fact that you have to put in some late nights and quite a few weekends. Don’t fight it. Anyway, you’ll feel slightly less stressed during the week if you spread out your work across 7 days. There will be more stressful periods particularly the 24 hours before a deadline. Know that it is an occupational hazard, but that overall doing a PhD is very rewarding, interesting and dare I say very fun.

Find yourself a hobby
Netflix-watching is a perfectly acceptable one!

Don’t stop taking care of yourself!
Don’t let the PhD completely consume you. Yes, yes, I know I said to give into the all-consuming nature of a 3 year PhD, but take some time to yourself to make sure you don’t have a breakdown. Continue to eat and groom and try to keep a healthy sleeping pattern. You can do it! As I have mentioned in a previous post, try yoga!

Have regular meetings with your PI
This makes things a whole lot easier. Although you should be fairly independent, it is good to get feedback and insight from your PI who will help you stay on the right path and hopefully prevent you from straying too far from that initial proposal… Supervisors are usually happy to help. Don’t forget that they too went through the same thing that you are going through. On the flip side, remember that they are busy with other lab members and being on committees and applying for grants and actually ensuring that the lab is running smoothly, so if you do have meetings with them, be prepared and have a specific list of things you want to go through. This will make the meetings more effective and prevent anyone from wasting their time.

Things don’t always go well
This is a fact of life. The sooner you embrace it, the happier you’ll be. However, don’t become complacent and blame all failed experiments on the lab fairy! You still have to work hard and give it your all. It is rewarding and it will pay off in the end, even if you did end up wasting a whole year on experiments that didn’t work. Hopefully your experimental dry spell will not last long. You should always try to come up with a contingency plan or conduct other experiments instead of continuing to bash your head into a wall.
I hope that this blog post was insightful and helpful. Hopefully by my next post I will no longer be in postgrad limbo and I will officially be a 2nd year PhD student! (I should be… I just have to find a time when my whole committee is on the same continent!)