When I look back at my PhD, I have no regrets. I did everything I could to make the most of the opportunity I got and of my time abroad as an international student. I wrote an article about this last year on bringing my PhD up to the next level. Of course, this doesn’t only apply to a PhD programme, you can do and achieve the same things with a master degree or a postdoc.
My experience as a graduate student was quite unique. If you look at it from a traditional point of view, it doesn’t look like I have achieved much. I finished without publishing any peer-reviewed paper, I didn’t bring money to my PI by winning grants, I wasn’t involved in any collaboration and my thesis was accepted with major revisions. I never spend more time I had to in the lab, I rarely spent weekends and evenings doing experiments. From an academic point of view, that would have been classified as a failure.
I decided to do my own things and created my own rules to define success.
LUCKILY, I never evaluated my success by following academic rules. I never wanted my PhD to be just another degree. I never wanted to stay in academia. My idea from day 1 was to get my PhD and move on with my career and with life. So, I decided to do my own things and created my own rules to define success. I took advantage of every opportunity and signed up for any career training offered by the university. I volunteered for many activities and put myself forward when something new came up. And 1 year after I submitted my PhD thesis, I couldn’t be any happier of the path my decisions led me to.
It was a lonely journey but ultimately led me to the place where I wanted to be!
Of course, from a career point of view, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I completed my PhD, I created a successful personal brand, I gained a lot of soft skills which ultimately landed me to a great job. But all this came at the cost of my social life. I had to sacrifice a lot of night outs, social events and relationships to progress with my career. This is why I am taking my career progression a bit easier and trying to prioritise other things, like improving my social life, at the moment. At least, this was the plan until corona bullshit screwed up everything.
I have learned a lot of things during my PhD that are serving me well now and I will bring with me for the foreseeable future. Doing research is just of the many. I have learned how to make the most of difficult and uncomfortable situations and endure drastic circumstances. I believe this is why I managed to do okay in my new job despite the misery of the pandemic. I have learned that no one is responsible for your career development but yourself. I still get involved in every opportunity that comes across, such as attending online conferences, signing up for career development training and using social media to network professionally. One of the “positive” aspects of this pandemic is the online learning which doesn’t only allow to tune into events by sitting on your sofa, but it’s also cost-free. I have already attended 4 seminars and have 2 more lined up before the end of the year.
Most importantly, above all during my last 2 years in grad school, I have learned how to make my physical and mental wellbeing a priority. I think this is one of the most valuable aspect for any successful career. Doing research is such an intense and demanding job. I feel exhausted at evenings and weekends and using this time to recuperate and recharge, not to do work, is extremely important. Simple things like exercising or cooking my meals became parts of my routine, things I do in autopilot.
Ultimately, doing a PhD is a career option. It’s something you do for career progression. Particularly in science, at some point, it becomes very hard to move up if you don’t have the D before your name. It’s just four or five years of your life. You do it, you learn skills, then you move on. Don’t get mentally stuck to this academic persona, unless you want to pursue an academic career of course. Honestly, in 10 years, no one gives a crap about how many papers you published, whatever your work colleagues or your supervisor thought of you or how many hours you spent in the lab. All they care about is your skills, technical and soft, your experience and your willingness to move and progress with your career within the company you work for. That’s it!