When I started writing this blog post I intended it to be on the topic of managing a PhD, but when I started listing all the aspects of management that a PhD involves, from designing experiments to supervision of undergraduates to keeping track of your time, the text quickly grew out of proportions for a single blog entry. The main idea remained the same though: pursuing a PhD involves a lot of independent work.
Scientists practice the integrity of research in the first semester of the university as much as towards the end of the career. Despite all the regulatory efforts, we end up deciding for ourselves how much we want to follow the rules, balancing reward and punishment. This became very clear to me as an overachieving postdoc in the adjacent lab at my alma mater lost her career overnight for falsifying data. And in our time when ignorance and scientific fraud strive to finish off our planet, it is imperative to cultivate research integrity.
Taking your mind off is something everyone should do, no matter which kind of job, routine, daily life or duties we have to deal with. Of course, the better your life is, the higher are the chances to find some free time and energy to invest in such “out-of-the-ordinary” activities. I mean, working 10 hours per day, doing an arduous work, with hungry children at home waiting for you to come back with some food in your hands, leave a little room for entertainment. But, although every PhD student I have ever met, use to complain a lot (myself included), we have to be honest and face the hard reality: is not the worst job we could have chosen! I know it is hard to admit, but there are plenty of other jobs where people is under a lot of stress, both physically and mentally. And, even though doing research puts you under a lot of stress due to several reasons, it cannot be comparable with many other harsher professions. So, if one has the privilege to take some time and include in the weekly agenda a whatsoever recreational activity, well, he/she should remember how lucky he/she is and do it! It is a strong advice!
As I am about to finish my PhD – or more accurately, my PhD grant is about to expire – I find myself thinking a lot about the future. I have been in a long-distance relationship for almost 3 years now, which is quite common in international research. My life is established in Bristol, and I have enjoyed job security for two and a half years now.
Like in a movie, conducting a European PhD also comes with some funny “behind the scenes shots” that I will never forget! As the TreatRec project is a European Training Network, it has partners in different countries. For us, moving from one country to another to perform secondments or attend conferences/courses involves many changes. We have to adapt to different languages, food, etc. Even to the use of different currency. Sometimes the adjustment to the new environment comes with comic situations.
While doing my PhD, I often wondered at those theses where a student managed to publish 4-5 times within only 3 years. However, after some digging, or explanatory talk if I happened to know the student in question, I almost always encountered some sort of trick.
Sometimes people look at conferences as something you have to do during your carrier as PhD student. Scientific symposiums are usually addressed as the best chance we have to train that sort of skills which we don’t exercise in our daily life while we are behind a desk, or measuring micropollutants in the lab, or dirtying our hands with activated sludge. In a conference, you have to prove yourself from a different point of view, first of all, we have to stand in front of many people - with much more experience in the field that what we have – and pretend you are at their same level. Of course I don’t pretend PhD students to be at the same level of professors, but in that specific context, up on that stage, we are (more or less) alike. At least we are alike in the sense of we (PhD and Prof.) both have to give a scientific speech about our respective field of interest. Secondly, while you are giving the talk, you have to make sure the audience understand the work you are presenting. And then, only when this happens, they may start listening for real. Hence, if the attendees start to listen, they may end up being hooked by your presentation, therefore by your research. This is tough, challenging, but can generate that kind of feeling you experience in those occasions when you do the right thing… Even more, you do the right thing, and on top of that, you know you did it right! To sum up, if all this happen, you experience “satisfaction”! The third challenge you have to face is “to do enough networking”. Now this could sound either weird or opportunistic, but it’s not. I’m not ashamed of saying that doing some networking, done it in a proper way, is Science as well. Knowing other researchers, from several places around the world, not only open your mind, but most importantly gives you the opportunity of evaluating your own research and, if needed, to re-tune it in a more up-to-date direction. At the same time, obtaining feedbacks and comments from experts, can only have the results of boosting your work up! GREAT!
When we decided to increase the number of family members, we underestimated the extra-work that it meant. We knew that our lives were going to change forever and we were also aware that the first months were going to be terrible: the parents and baby have to adapt to a new environment.