Things have seemed to settle down a bit in Edinburgh. The grass is staring to grow again in George Square Gardens, everyone is back from holidays and freshers are recovering from freshers flu.
As I did last year, I will once again provide you with Katherine’s kernels of wisdom (speaking about myself in the third person again). I am one year wiser and I am passing along all my wisdom to you, my lovely blog readers. These “what I have learned so far v2.0” should be taken along with what I learned from my first year to provide you with a sort of manual for “How to survive your PhD 101”.
You do not have much time
Three years may seem like ages, but let me tell you, if you blink, it’ll go right past. Three years is really not a long time to complete a PhD. In North America PhDs tend to last at least 5 years and usually even longer. The duration of PhDs here is both a blessing and a curse. If you decide midway through that science and academia is not for you, you will have only dedicated a small portion of your life to research. Nevertheless, you will have come out of your PhD with lots of other important transferable skills and a great work ethic. However, if you are incredibly passionate, three years may not be enough time to go down all the winding, twisting paths where your research question may drag you. You need to make sure to carefully plan your project. Although you may want to pursue every avenue, be sure to stay on course. I think that meeting often with your supervisor is the best way to stay on track. It is good to discuss your ideas and plans for other experiments.
Stay on top of your data analysis
I must admit that I am guilty of not quite being so timely with my data analysis. I must stress that it is really important (do as I say, not as I do, right?). If you don’t look at your data, how do you know that your experiments/ protocols are actually working? Analysing as you go along will save you time and effort in the long-run. You’ll be able to troubleshoot right away and won’t have to repeat experiments unnecessarily.
Get out of the lab!
Even if your sole ambition in life is to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, there is no need to be in the lab 24/7. Find yourself a hobby, go to the gym, travel, paint, join a society or a committee or just go hang out at a pub or a coffee shop to wind down. Meet people from outside of your research area -if nothing else it’ll give you the chance to practice explaining your research to a lay audience and improve your science communication skills. If what you are studying truly is your one passion in life (in that case, congratulations on landing the best PhD project ever!) then go to talks and lectures on related topics. Try to do some teaching in your field as well, there are so many opportunities for demonstrating and facilitating undergraduate courses here. Just do not spend all your time in the lab, it’ll drive you crazy!
The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry
I think last year I was being optimistic when I said that things don’t always go well. I’m being slightly more realistic this year and I am firmly stating: things will go wrong. In fact, a few weeks ago, I found out that one of the constructs that I had been working with had a single base insertion that knocked everything out of frame. Although it was devastating to find out that what I had been working on for a long time had to be repeated, it did explain why I was struggling to see my protein of interest! I have since fixed my construct and I am merrily on my way to repeat my experiments.
Take care of yourself
I know I said this last year, but it is worth repeating again. PhDs are stressful and they do completely take over your life. Try to follow some kind of routine. Do not forget to take care of yourself and eat and sleep.
I hope that these latest kernels of wisdom prove to be useful and helpful!