3 Tips for Surviving the PhD Phase

With this year winding down, I’ve recently had time to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned during my first year in the lab. I don’t believe in any way that these are groundbreaking insights. Many of you would probably come to the same conclusions without ever reading this. However, I figure it couldn’t hurt to share.  So, I present to you…

Three Tips for Surviving the PhD Phase

1.  Identify and Maintain a Good Work/Life Balance

See what I did there? Notice how I didn’t say an equal work life balance. Want to know why? Equality is overrated. Every person’s balance is going to be different, and very often time is not going to be evenly distributed between work and life responsibilities. Some people are very good at compartmentalizing these two entities in their lives. I happen to be one of those people that aren’t. However, it works out for me. It means I’m able to constantly think about new ideas for my projects. Also, it gives me a mental place to go when my girlfriend starts talking about things I don’t really care about. But in all seriousness, a full professor here at UAB told me something I’ll probably carry with me for the rest of my life. When asked about how he balances work in life he responded by saying “There is no work and life, there’s just life, and the difficulties that come with it.” That outlook makes the most sense to me, but it’s up for you to decide whether you agree or not.

2. Set High Goals, But Don’t Get Overly Disappointed When They Fail

Science is an exhausting emotional roller coaster. One second you can feel like your on the brink of making an observation that could change the world, and the next second you can feel tempted to break into the MSTP office to see whether there is a paper trail linked to the mistake that led you to be wrongly admitted into the program. Simply put, it comes with the territory. Don’t let disappointment prevent you from dreaming big though. Being able to dream big is one of the major positives of a career in research. Am I ever going to win the Nobel Prize? I wouldn’t bet money on it. Will I ever have robotic Doctor Octopus-esque arms I can use the when I’m in the biosafety cabinet? No again, but I can dream, and no amount if disappointment can ruin that.


 Seriously, what biologist wouldn’t want these?

3. Enjoy this Time

I’ll make this one short. Research is awesome. As I alluded to above, you have a chance to work on whatever your mind can dream up, as long as you can convince others it’s a good idea. Few careers can offer that, and medicine definitely doesn’t. Seriously, what other job can you tell your boss he’s wrong and potentially be praised for it?  And where else can you interact with experts from across the globe to work towards a common goal of advancing human knowledge? Enjoy these opportunities as a graduate student, they’ll be missed when you return to the wards.

Hopefully these rambling eccentric points are helpful.

Have a great holiday!


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