How to survive the first 6 months of your PhD? - a blogpost by ESR9 Bohdana Sokolova
When my turn came to write a blog post, most of my colleagues have already had a chance to talk about their experience as fresh PhDs. Joining a high-level research group, meeting renowned scientists, winter schools, conferences, exchanges abroad – many things that one could only dream of in undergrad are most frequently mentioned in the reflections on first months of doctorate studies. But alas, from my own experience and discussions with other PhD students I dare say that the feeling that often hides behind this refined façade is frustration. Questions like ‘where is this going?’ and ‘am I doing enough?’ used to pop up in my head all the time adding to the general state of confusion as a newly-started PhD student. Having successfully survived 5 months of my new role, I would like to leave some tips for those who are just starting their journey and myself on how to get through first months of PhD studies.
‘Accept your destiny’
First of all, it is normal to feel confused. We will skip first four stages of Bart Simpson’s scheme right to the last one – acceptance. Embrace the idea that you will not be perfect on this path, you might not see the global idea behind the project, you might not understand everything, you might make mistakes, and it is completely okay. Regardless of what you have been doing before, no one is fully prepared to be a PhD student. Once you have accepted your fate, you can move on to the next step.
‘What can I do to make this journey as smooth as possible?’
Start learning about your project asap. PhD is a combination of studies, research work and – most importantly – managing a project, and you cannot lead this project without knowing the direction where you are going. So read the literature, discuss it with your supervisors, make sure to have a clear vision of everything that is supposed to happen during these 3 (or 4) years.
‘Use the opportunities’
Consider your time as a graduate student a mutually beneficial agreement between you and the scientific community: you provide an in-depth research on a certain topic and in exchange get an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. PhD studies provide space to improve a large variety of skills. Always wanted to start writing? Launch a personal or write articles for biotech media. Interested in trying yourself as a mentor? Volunteer to supervise an undergraduate student or work as a TA in a course. Organizing conferences, starting a pop-science podcast, exploring bioenterpreneurship – there are countless possibilities out there waiting for you to uncover them! Think about your passions and try to find ways to express them as a part of your studies from day one, it will certainly bring a splash of color into your routine work (and enrich your CV😉).
This is your unique chance to meet like-minded people ready to change the world. So put yourself out there, attend workshops, conferences, learn about things that others are doing (even if they are not directly applicable to your field or rather especially if they are not directly applicable to your field).
Last but not least, remember that research is just one part of your life. As important as your work is for you, it is crucial to find that ‘equilibrium state’ where you could have space for healthy sleep, sport, hobbies and private life. PhD is a marathon and not a sprint, so make sure you have enough energy to make it to the finish line!
It has been already 6 months since I arrived to the lively, ancient and history filled city of Urbino. This is not only my first time leaving my country behind, but it is also my first time living by myself, so jumping into this project has definitely proved to be a real challenge.
A time comes for all of us to become an independent adult and deal with all kinds of new (and sometimes scary, of course) issues and situations. And if that you add the fact that your known environment, people and even language change it can become a challenging situation to be in.
The biggest tip I can give to anyone is don’t be afraid to ask. And I mean in any situation you may find yourself in. Especially if you are a new to a city, of course you are not expected to know where things are or how anything works there. Being an introverted person myself, I usually struggled trying to approach people and asking the most basic stuff. However, something I learned is that people want to help. Even if you don’t share a common language, there is always a way to communicate and let them know what you need.
This tip basically applies to most of the situations you can get yourself into:
When moving from Barcelona (1.6 Mil Population) to Urbino (14.4 k Population) I already expected a big change, not only in the city itself but also in the daily life. And that is exactly what I got.
I now live in a quiet and beautiful walled city, surrounded by a landscape I never imagined.