In just 5 days it will be my 6-month anniversary of starting my PhD. Which means that I am already a sixth of my way through my time in the lab, and an eighth of my way through my entire PhD. That’s a pretty scary thought… and if I wasn’t already worrying that I’ve not achieved much, then I am now!
Despite my worry, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to have reassured me that this is totally normal when starting out on a PhD and that the majority of the lab work doesn’t start until my second and third year. They tell me that it’s usual for things to start pretty slow at first and then everything will begin to take off at once; at that point I will be dreaming of the days when I worked just 35 hours a week and didn’t have to take work home.
So to try and take my mind off what I still haven’t achieved, I thought it would be good to reflect on the things that I have achieved since starting my PhD in January…
I suppose one of the major upsides to not having many experiment commitments at the moment is that I am a lot more flexible to attend the personal development training sessions that are put on by the doctoral college at my university. And they have been excellent!
I’ve gained a lot more transferable skills already in team-working, poster/presentation design, academic writing and project planning/management just to name a few. I’ve also surprised myself by learning some basic programming and actually being able to use that in some extra data analysis I’ve been doing on the side.
One of my biggest achievements in this past 6 months is how my confidence and abilities have improved when it comes to presenting to people. Before starting in January I had presented my research only twice before – once for 10 minutes as part of my undergraduate dissertation, and another for 15 minutes as part of my masters dissertation. But now I can take that tally up to 5 already. And this time I’ve had the chance to present to hospital staff, patients and members of the public too, not just academics.
I can’t say that I enjoy giving presentations now – that’s still something that I’m working on. But I am getting so much better at controlling my nerves and conveying my research effectively.
Finally, I can’t forget the work that I’ve done trying to improve my science communication. I am still trying to get into a habit of posting on my blog and regularly trying to update my social media with what I’m up to in the lab (which has definitely been a lot harder than I first thought). But my following is growing slowly and I have really enjoyed networking and chatting to other sci-commers. And I have so many more ideas to try and improve my public engagement which I hope will bring other exciting opportunities my way!
In essence, because I came from a lab where I spent all day working on experiments, I think I’ve had some misconceptions that I should be doing that as soon as I started my PhD. But the past 6 months have helped me realise that there is so much more to being a scientist. Yes we have experiments to carry out, but we also have reading to do, papers to write, presentations to give, conferences to attend, training to complete, as well as disseminating our work to the public. And so it’s okay if not all of our time is spent in the lab. I should carry on making the most of this ‘down-time’ whilst it lasts as I know this will change before long.
Have any of my fellow doctoral students experienced a similar thing? Let me know in the comments below!