I’ve been delayed in writing my latest blog post by attending courses, helping new PhD students and supervising work experience students, which alongside my PhD work, has left me little time to do much else!
My time management ramblings aside, I have now started to reflect on the last few weeks and think about what’s changed for me since I started my PhD.
I think what comes to mind first is how much more independent I am as a person. I decide on my timetable, who I need to talk to, what meetings I need to organize and what goals I need to achieve by when. I am also much more confident in going to new places, meeting new people and now try to put myself forward for things I would’ve once avoided.
I’ve found that if you just get on and have a go, you can generate positive experiences, which diminish your fears so you can gain more from the opportunities available to you as a PhD student. Even if you try something and don’t like it, at least you know that from having a go!
I’ve also been thinking more about control and influence in my research. Now when I think about what I am doing, I think about who has control over it. It’s pointless to worry or become anxious about something you have no control over, so that has helped me feel at ease more. I also know what I can control and influence, so I can put all my energy into what I can do to make a difference.
I have also recently realized that some of my worries about things like presenting to an audience and continuing with an academic career have all been centred around my perception of what I need to be a good presenter or academic. I perceive that I do not present well and that I need to know more than I do now to be a post-doc, but when I speak to those around me, they tell me a different reality (without sounding arrogant!)- that I am nervous when I present but I keep it under control, that I show all the attributes they would associate with being a good post-doc.
In relation to this, I’ve also realized the value of feedback. This helps you differentiate between your perception of what you do and the actual reality!
I have also learnt to appreciate the value of other people. Doing everything yourself may seem like the best way to guarantee that things will get done, but sometimes the support of others can help you progress faster – you just have to make sure you can rely on the people that help!
I hate to be a cliche so I’m not going to use the word ‘networking’ :-p but just talking to other people can really help. Even if it’s just a rant with fellow PhD students, knowing other people are in a similar situation helps. Also, the more people you talk to, the easier it is to find someone who knows about a topic you are looking into or find the person that has the equipment you need.
Also, like I’ve mentioned before, there are lots of opportunities for PhD students both paid and voluntary. Find out what they are and have a go. The extra bits I have done here and there have helped me to meet new people, develop more contacts and find out more about what I do and don’t like doing, which is helpful when I’m trying to make decisions about my future career.
In summary, I would advise all PhD students to always take a little bit of time to stop and think about what you have learnt so far and how you’d like to progress further and then what steps you need to do to make that happen (please note I’m also trying to take my own advice!)
It’s your PhD, so get the most you can out of it!