Seven things I learned from PhD

By Amina Yaqoob

I wrote first few posts about scientific writing in July 2020 and gladded to see the positive feedback. Therefore, I am planning to write constantly and will be highlighting several aspects of academia. There are a few things I have observed and learned during my PhD, I am putting them all in this pretty list post as an ode to PhD lessons.

If you are thinking about PhD and have not started yet, or have PhD related queries on the brain, this post is for you!




1. Choose your project wisely

Remember, you are the driver of your roller coaster. Instead of complaining later, take time to think and explore pieces. A keen interest plus fit in the lab will give you a perfect start. It is normal to start hating your project in the beginning or feel exhausted at some times. Nevertheless, do not underestimate your abilities and consider your hurdles a failure.

2. Your advisor matters; so be good at maintaining a stable relationship with him/her

Be open to your advisor about the kind of support you need! Supervisors are not the mind readers, they see what you show them, so; discuss your success stories and problems with your advisor often. Try to develop a healthy, friendly relationship to make this journey productive. Also, advocate for yourself. Do not accept sexiest, homophobic, or racist attitudes just because it is coming from your advisor/Professor.

3. Give yourself time to learn

It is completely common to make mistakes, to ask naïve questions, and to learn from others. Never be afraid to ask questions, it is okay to say you do not know something. I would say, read a lot and learn from scientific papers. The better you understand an article, the more you can polish your writing expertise. Furthermore, reading articles will help you troubleshooting your research issues more precisely.

4. Be organized

Be attentive and keep up to the frequency of your work with consistency and flow. Implement a strategy for managing your tasks. Set your goals in time, you know your worth better than anyone else does. In my opinion, do not separate experimental work from the write-up, do them side-by-side. For instance, writing a review, related to your project, can help you understand the theory, and compiling-up the data, for the research paper, will help you understand the gaps in your research. So, do not wait to write things at the end, but overlap the write-up with lab work.

5. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Start doing things early and practice writing as much as you can. Network with your seniors, lab fellows, and mentors to keep you going consistently. Set your goals and assign some deadlines, then try to actually get something done before that deadline. Even you can do a good deal with initially retrieved data if it is not what you originally intended. Be logical and practical rather than just dreaming.

6. Never compare yourself to others

Just be yourself rather than exaggerating research pressure. I myself feel inferiority complexes and lagging behind at some points of my research. However, it was much better, when I stopped comparing and thought about working things out together.  There will be days when you think you are not smart enough and want to quit. Everyone’s journey is different and you are going to toss out something unique even if you do not realize it in the beginning. Great things always take time.

7. Keep up with hobbies outside the lab

Besides research work, it is very much important to prioritize your wellbeing and mental health. Enjoy your journey! Figure out what you are excited about and spare some time to do it. Do not be too much stick to your experiment that it becomes your nightmare. Stay true to yourself and do not get panic. Overthinking is a silent killer, so having a break and stopping yourself at some points is absolutely normal. Have fun with your research work, appreciate your efforts and celebrate your little achievements more often.