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Lessons learned during my PhD

1. Talk to people about your ideas

Over my time as a student I had lots of ideas; from ideas for small projects, to ideas that would surely revolutionise modern healthcare in particular and very probably the world of science in general! Over time it became clear to me that best way to work out which ideas were worthwhile and feasible and which ones were garbage was to talk about them. This can take a little bit of courage sometimes because I was often a bit worried about coming out with something ridiculous. It can feel a bit intimidating going to a supervisor or senior person with something new and that’s where fellow students (and now the ICECReam!) come in handy. The reality is that lots of my ideas went nowhere, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth discussing. An additional benefit of talking about your ideas is that they can potentially provide some insight into and help clarify what area(s) you are interested in.

2. No one is going to do it for you

Everyone around me was busy. My supervisor was obviously there to help me but constantly working on a multitude of things other than my project. Co-authors (the good ones J) usually responded to questions and got to their assigned tasks when asked, but it became clear to me that it was my responsibility to drive the projects I was on. This meant keeping track of where everything is at and who is supposed to be doing what, it also meant identifying potential problems, knowing what I needed help with and chasing people who are taking too long to do their jobs. The message is that there were lots of people around to help if I needed it, but the onus was on me to make sure all the wheels were in motion.

3. Don’t get too distressed if your supervisor rewrites your work

I really battled with the idea of sending a draft to my supervisor and having it come back a butchered mess of track changes and/or red pen. I started to feel like I wasn’t actually producing anything, rather just sending someone else’s work with my name as an author. It came to me though, that this was just the way I was going to learn. In most cases the ideas weren’t changed, more often wording and structure and writing style. Most of us aren’t going to come into this field in possession of the necessary high level writing skills, so have to be willing to learn from people who’ve been doing it for a while.

4. Everything takes longer than you think it will

I don’t know why this is the case. It may be that it’s because efficiency and concentration are skills that need to be learned like any others and that I’ll get better at it over time – I’ll let you know. Whatever the reason though, completing even the simplest of tasks seemed routinely to take much, much longer than I had originally planned. Given this, the best thing I could do was; a) try to leave more time than I thought I would need, and b) not be too hard on myself when the inevitable time-blowout occurred.

5. Keep at it

There were times when everything seemed to be going wrong. A week in which the computer crashes, a paper has been rejected without review for the 3rd time, study recruitment has stopped in its tracks, and someone steals your lunch from the fridge can make the world seem a pretty bleak place. The reality though is that things improve. I found it best to work on whatever I could and allow myself to take satisfaction in whatever I managed to achieve, even if it seems a bit insignificant and pathetic. Don’t worry about the bastard that pinched your lunch, he/she will pay, the universe will see to it!

Send us yours!

We hope this post can become something of a living document that people add to for the benefit of everyone else. So, if there is anything you’ve learnt during the course of your PhD which you think might be helpful for people still slogging through theirs – please send us an email at the ICECReam and we’ll put it up.

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