After talking about how to keep calm and survive your PhD with my last two blog posts, I thought I would take us all back to a more positive note! So for this blog I wanted to talk a little more about why I enjoy my PhD (although these reasons are sometimes forgotten!) and what the benefits are of being a PhD student. So, here’s my list in no particular order (just the one in which they fell out of my brain!)
1. Independence: Your PhD is your own, you decide what hours you work, in what order you do things, what tasks you prioritize, what methods you use, how you record information, when cake time is etc. Obviously, this can vary depending on your project, supervisor, institution. There are some things you might have to do in certain ways, some methods you have to use, certain times you have to have meetings, but in general you have a lot of freedom. This can be a blessing, especially if you don’t like people being in your ear giving you orders a lot! But at the same time, it is a position of responsibility, as you have to find what works for you and stick to it – you need to be able to sit down and work without someone having to lock you in a room to do it! This leads nicely onto my next point….
2. Responsibility: You may or may not agree with this, but for me, being a PhD student also has a sense of responsibility. Not only because I am the person managing my project, but also because PhD students are valued members of a department. Often I have showed visitors around, helped on open days, taught undergraduates and marked their work and mentored MSc students to mention a few examples. Now, you could see this as PhD students being given all the work to do and how much you agree with that may depend on your own individual situation! However, for me I try and manage my workload and only take on what fits in with that (to avoid the doing all the work bit!) and then I see what I do take part in as a compliment that the academics trust me enough to give me such responsibility.
3. Transferable skills: I’m cringing at myself as I type using such a ‘buzz word’ but its true. During your PhD you develop so many skills that are useful in a much broader sense – presentation skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, time management, project management, team work. You just have to think about how they can be applied in lots of different ways to show their value to a potential employer whether that is in academia or outside of it.
4. Flexibility: This does sound a little similar to independence, but what I mean by flexibility is more the ability to take control of your project, look at what equipment you want to use, what order you want to do things in and when you want to do things. I understand that different students/projects will have certain deadlines and things that need to be done in a certain order, but I find if you can justify what you are doing with sound reasoning and logic in the good interests of the project, then your supervisors will be happy to let you follow that path.
5. Opportunities: A PhD is full of opportunity. You have a chance to meet and work with lots of different people. You can learn how to work in a lab, how to use different computer programs/software. You can teach, you can blog, you can create societies, you can volunteer, you can travel, you can attend free training courses so there is loads to do and lots to participate in. It’s up to you how much you choose to do!
I think in the end, what I’m trying to say is….its not all that bad! Don’t get me wrong, there will be plenty of tea/coffee and cake needed and many moments of sharing your despair over problems you are having with fellow PhD’ers, but when it all works out in the end (which it will!), you’ll be glad you had a good go at it 🙂