Psycholoquia, Building the Bigger Picture, and Planning the End

Standard

Hi all 🙂

The last two months have felt strong and I’ve made some good progress regarding my physical health. PhD wise, I’ve given a presentation, started getting to grips with the bigger picture of my research, and taken steps to plan for the end of my PhD.

Psycholoquia

As an absolutely rarity, I’m actually writing this at the time it happened (as opposed to writing the whole post just before submission). In our department, we present 3 talks over our PhD and these are termed ‘Psycholoquia’. My first (2014) was fine but a bit of an overly long shambles, 2016’s was ok but essentially just ‘this is what i’m going’, 2018’s was different. I have data now and a good chunk of the story I’ll tell in my thesis. That’s quite exciting but got me much more nervous than usual. At the end of an intense 4 days of stats, talk prep, lab practice, teaching, and work I’ve now given my talk and from what I can tell it went down positively. I’ve received two bits of praise, one of which is embedded below. Overall, I felt it went well considering that it was unrehearsed. At times, I felt myself rushing and some of the organisation could have been better but I’m very glad that it’s done and happy with myself for doing it that well 🙂

 

Building the Bigger Picture

One of the things I’ve been struggling with in the past few years is considering the bigger picture of my research. I’ve found that having a broad interest has made it difficult to hone in and provide some clarity on the direction and focus of my PhD. Theses, in general, will have a central narrative and I’ve found myself lacking the focus to come to recognise my own. Lately, and in no small part aided by the vast amount of statistics as well as the presentation I’ve done, I have finally started to get to grips with the bigger picture of my research. It’s not finished yet, of course, but I am more confident when discussing the research to present it in a way which supports some overarching questions as opposed to simply isolated interesting questions. I’ll keep going with this and it is going to help with the direction of my final experiment as well as my thesis. Speaking of which…

Planning the End

I have started to not only think about what I want to do next with my life but also how to put together my thesis in the first place. A thesis can be structured in a number of different ways, depending on your data and the way your questions flow together, and as I’m winding down to the writing phase I’m starting to think about this. I’m going to look at the bigger picture and how the experiments I’ve done fit in that to draft a chapter by chapter plan for my thesis. I’ll include what each chapter is aiming to do and its role in the thesis as well as a first go at a decent title. My supervisor will then no doubt beat the ideas into shape when I see them next.

Something I have to really start thinking about now is what I want to do next. I’ve always been interested in teaching so I’m certainly going to look for careers where I use my experience and knowledge to aid others but beyond that I’m still unsure. I’d happily be a teaching fellow at a university or a science teacher in a school or do something to do with outreach work at museums or charities. I also have not ruled out continuing the academic route and looking for my first full-time position working in somebody else’s lab. With that in mind, I’ve already started a few conversations with potential bosses and I’m going to continue this over the coming year as well as at a conference in the summer!

It’s been a good two months and I’m feeling stronger in myself. The next two will be spent finishing some analysis for this experiment, (hopefully) having written the next experiment’s ideas, and applying for a conference!

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

Advertisements

Things I’m Proud of and Plans for the Future

Standard

Hey all 🙂

Another year has started and I’m once again reflecting on my progress. This time last year, I talk about how things have gone 3.5 years in. This year I  thought I would talk about the achievements which I’m proud of and my plans for the near future to continue striving to be a better me.

Things I’m Proud Of

For the first time in four years I have started to feel like I am getting a grip on this research thing. A research apprenticeship (aka a PhD) involves no practice trials, you learn to do research whilst actually doing it. This double learning curve is quite steep and as such it can sometimes feel like your struggling to stay afloat. Now that I’ve gone through the motions from ideas through execution to analysis to presentation I feel like I’ve taken a step up in my abilities. I feel far more confident in doing good work as well as keeping up with workloads. Now this isn’t complacency, I’m not sat here thinking the work is done. However, I am happy within myself for the progress I’ve made.

Related to the above, I’ve become more confident in communication having had three experiences which have shown me that I am competent in engaging others in ideas. First, outreach in schools. I spent a day at a science festival for primary school children where i taught them how to get DNA from strawberries. Working with such young kids was endlessly challenging but I managed to hold my own and they seemed to get something good from it! Second, summer school. I had my own class of 5 students for 4 weeks during which I introduced them to many areas of biology as well as hands-on experience they wouldn’t get in high school. The class was engaging and well received so I must have been doing something right! Lastly, conference presentation. I had my first opportunity to present my own research this year in Portugal. I gathered more interest than expected and held interesting discussions about my work with a large handful of people including two whom I’m going to keep in contact with in case of future job opportunities!

Across this year, I have pushed myself to try new things which at times has meant getting quite out of my depth. Being in a routine can be good but challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone can be also for a number of reasons. Firstly, you may just find something new which you enjoy. Secondly, it can keep you alert mentally and help to develop new skills. Lastly, taking small steps to leave your safety zone can help give you the confidence to take a leap of faith or simply be vulnerable in other aspects of your life. This year I’ve tried many things, including: film and TV reviews, cosplay, archery, mixed martial arts, and novel writing. Whilst not all of these have stuck, the experiences have been invaluable and I am very proud of myself for giving these things a go.

Plans For The Future

In the last two or so years of this PhD thing I need to start doing some serious thinking about what I want to do with my life. Since I was young, I have always wanted to teach. I’m not sure precisely why but engaging others and helping them to learn interesting things and develop skills always appealed to me. I went to university with this intention but during my second year it struck me that I could not only be the one telling people about the world but also the person learning about it in the first place. You never know if that career is for you, however, and whilst I did get experience during my undergraduate I didn’t have the chance to ‘live’ research. I decided that I would go into a PhD to get some full experience and use that to decide whether the academic route is for me or not. If it was I’d pursue research and lecturing, if not i’d be a school teacher. Now, 4.5 years later, I’m no better informed about myself. There was a time when I was ready to leave but after a bit of adjustment (in research and life in general) I’m feeling much enjoyment and competence in research now. So i’m still a bit stuck. All that I know is I want to work in an area where I can use my experiences to help others. Thus, across this year I’m going to do some serious thinking and learn about the opportunities out there.

I want to spend my year continuing to make new experiences as well as stick with some of the ones I’ve most enjoyed. Archery is going well and I’d really like to keep on top of that. I can only make 2/5 sessions a week but that’s enough for some catharsis and development. It’s such a supportive community there no matter what your experience and intentions. I’d like to continue this over 2018 and perhaps attend a competition or two if I’m ready! I’d also like to actually put a decent dent into novel writing. I had a story idea earlier in the year and have since written a summary draft as well as a detailed plan. I’d really like this to not be just a fruitless idea and actually put my creative muscles to work. I’m a musician too but have found myself stalled in terms of writing in recent years. Novel writing gives me the opportunity to express myself creatively in another way and also give myself some writing practice in general!

Lastly, I want to seriously focus on improving my physical health. I’ve always had weight issues  but even when I was considerably heavier I was fitter. My physical health (not just weight) has gone up and down over the years but I really nailed it in 2014 before taking a sharp fall backwards. Over the years, I’ve managed to get research right, life-balance right, and health right and 2018 is when I’m striving to get them all right together. As with a lot of things, I know the answers it’s just about making good habits. I feel I’m in a better place mentally now to make these habits and stick to them. This will include healthier and more controlled eating, less caffeine/alcohol, working on sleep habits, and more exercise. Small steps, I know, bu ultimately being healthier physically which snowball into more positivity in general.

So that’s it. Perhaps this time next year I’ll be telling the other side of this story with some good outcomes. My next two months are going to be spent starting a new experiment, working on my novel, and improving my health.

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

PhD Planning, Comic Con, and Trying New Things

Standard

Hey all!

The last two months have been slower than the previous ones but all round positive. I’ve been getting into some analysis and research planning, had a great birthday weekend away, and have started making some positive decisions including trying new things!

PhD: recent and planning the future

I believe I had a similar headache some 18 or so months ago regarding statistics. I’m not the greatest at stats but I am getting better. However, each time I ‘level up’, so to speak, there’s a new boss waiting to be overhauled. I’ve spent numerous weeks now trying to get something to work and all of the guidance online suggests it’s not particularly possible. The trouble I have is that a most of my results are negative. This isn’t innately a bad thing, not finding a result when you expect one tells you as much about the world as finding one: something about your best ideas is wrong. The trouble is is that my experiments involve small sample sizes and thus I am unsure as to whether I have true (therefore interesting) null results or whether I just haven’t made enough observations to find an effect. So what I’ve been teaching myself is a ‘Power Analysis’. This takes together various aspects of your data, including sample size, and provides you with a measure of if you are likely to catch a genuine effect if it’s there. There are very nice and simple ways of doing this, for simple data and tests…My models are quite complicated and the best guidance out there seems to suggest a simple power analysis doesn’t exists for the type of statistics I’m using. So I’m a bit stuck…I’ve tried a few things, done some reading, and now have contacted some more stats-savvy colleagues. I hope I can find a result!

I’m starting to outline some short- and long-term plans for the remainder of my PhD. I had a very constructive meeting with my supervisor during which we made a plan for the remainder of the year. The idea being to wrap up all of the results I have so far and to start putting them in a form geared towards papers and thesis chapters. It also helps to start opening questions for my final experiment. I am also continuing to practice some lab techniques so that I am ready to analyse some samples which is great as it’ll add a whole bunch more data for me to analyse. My supervisor is very good at getting me to step up at a good pace from following to driving ideas and I’m now moving on to that the next part of that. I am also starting to consider my outlook for the future. In a year or so I need to start applying for the next step and thus 2018 is going to be a year of networking and attending the best events to support me. For the now, I’m going to be having a strong think about what I would most like to do next and then we’ll be making a game plan to support it. Lots of thinking, lots of maturing, lots of scary but lots of good.

Comic Con – Glasgow

In the continued interest of my developing nerdery, I attended my second con! This time, a troop of 7 took to Glasgow together for a weekend of fun (which also happened to be my birthday). Costumes were wonderful across the board and the con was largely a success. I’ve written a review of it which will pop up on The Wonky Spanner sometime soon! I had an absolutely lovely weekend and, though one was too ill to come, had a great time with friends. We saw the con, bought far too much merch, played minigolf, visited an arcade, went bowling, ate out a lot. Overall, a great weekend. The ride home sucked a tad, however, as we broke down on the motorway and it took ages to be picked up by the insurance company. A 1.5h journey became a 10h one including a stint in a services carpark. Overall, a great weekend though and I hope my students weren’t too put off by my fatigue the next day!

Trying New Things

Part of attending the con was my decision to give cosplay a go. The most I’ve done to dress up before hasn’t amounted to more than painting my face but I thought I’d try it. The result wasn’t amazing but as my first attempt I’m quite proud of myself.

23023219_1658593850857939_406636833_o22829547_10155914665616908_4995685364387245736_o (1)23192336_10155924411396908_1597622089_o

The decision to do so has come with a series of positive choices in general, most of which involve trying new things. My first good decision came when I demoted myself at my job. I’ve been a ‘shift-manager’ for a few years now and with that came guarantee of hours plus a small increase in wage. In general, this has been fine and is good experience for the future. However, the further along it went the more the late nights and mental stress which comes with that position took its toll on my health and ultimately interfered with my PhD (the very reason I have that job in the first place…). I made the decision to step down and my boss has been entirely supportive. I now do no late shifts, have no responsibility, and keep up enough hours.

After cosplay, I also decided to put my mind to story writing. I’ve never been a writer, at all, and I’ve rarely delved into literary fiction but a short Ted Talk and a small bit of imagination got me thinking. So I wrote a 3 page summary covering the main strokes of the story and gave it to a few people to read. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback and am eager to continue filling out the story. I’ve also been given some suggested reading to help and as such I’m combining a well known book, comic/film, and some historical accounts together into my ideas. I have no idea how long this will take but it has given me another thing to think about and is forcing me to practice my writing which is never a bad thing!

Taking a walk around the sports fayre here, I had a whim to give a few things a go. I signed up to archery and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and since then have been attending some of their sessions. MMA was…interesting. Very alien to me in almost every way but still fun in its novelty. I was very impressed by how safety conscious they all were which was great. I ended up going to 3-4 training sessions but found myself getting overly anxious before them. I wasn’t sure if it was MMA specifically or just that I was trying TOO MANY new things but on the balance of it I stopped going. What was important to me, though, was that I tried it. I stepped out of my depth and gave it a go. Regarding archery, I’m still going and loving it each week! I can only make 2/4 of their sessions but that’s totally ok and all of the people there are really friendly and wanting to help. I have no idea whether I’ll aim to compete or not but for now it has given me a regular activity to focus on each week. As a side benefit, I’ve found myself completely focusing on it at training which is nice as it serves as a break from anything else.

So that’s me. The next two months will be spent finishing my analyses and writing them up, planning the next experiment, and sorting stuff out for a quick family visit over the festive period. Oh, and continuing with my new things!

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

Explorathon, Money and Personal Challenges, and Seriously Questioning What I’m Doing

Standard

Hey all 🙂

The last four months have been really challenging for me personally and as such a skipped one of my regular blog posts. I’ve taken part in a public engagement event, undergone some challenges, and for the first time I’ve started considering whether what I’m doing is the best thing for me.

Explorathon

Once a year, European research of all kinds floods the public stage to provide 24h of entertainment (hopefully with a dusted with a smidgen of engagement too!). This year St Andrews hosted its wing of the event for the first time and my lab had the opportunity to put something together. We decided to do a small stand on bird song! Below is a list of the things which were put on.

explorathon

Bird song is something which has fascinated people from all areas of life for a long time. Scientists, artists, poets, amongst others hear the chattering of the dawn chorus and find something wonderful and interesting in it. Top left panel: Young birds learn to sing by first listening to the song of a tutor (usually dad). After this they practice singing until what they hear is a good a match to what they learned as possible. In some birds these stages overlap whilst in others they are separate, some learn but a simple song before adulthood and some continually add to their song list across the years. Learning depends on a collection of brain regions called the ‘song system’ which is in two main branches: the front, focusing on learning the tutor’s song, and the back, responsible for producing the bird’s own song. These regions are often bigger in males than females and this is reflected in the fact that in most bird species only the males sing. Top left panel: It is thought that this is because singing is something about a male which a female can use to select a mate. Song is also used to defend territories which would bring obvious benefits to a female. Bottom right panel: The quality of a male’s song can also relate to the strength of his immune system, his parental investment, and the size and survival of his offspring thus females can gain numerous benefits from choosing a mate based on aspects of their song. More recently an idea has been suggested that when a male sings he is giving away signs about how smart he is (as shown by the cute graduation hats and scrolls with grades on them) thus a female would also potentially gain a mate who more readily learns patterns of food availability for example.

birds

Our lab used this poster as a background and talking spot for our stand as well as provided a couple of activities. The first (and coolest) is the game Bird Idol which my supervisor co-created a number of years ago. The game uses real recordings of the parts of canaries’ songs and lets the player choose which parts and in which order to play them. This is done for two males and then the songs play and the female hops towards the male they prefer based on real evidence for the preference of females for certain aspects of song. Additionally, we used a laptop to let people see their own song in the same way we record a bird’s on a sonogram (bottom left panel). Overall, it was a good day and we are developing bigger plans to take these and more activities to bigger science festivals.

Money and Personal Challenges

The end of my third year has brought some serious personal challenges (which is probably why I haven’t blogged in four months). Third year is well known to be a bit of a panic for most PhD students as it tends to be when your funding runs out so you’re balancing finishing your research, writing your thesis, and applying for jobs with the impending loss of income looming ever closer. I have colleagues who dealt with this in different, frequently unhealthy, ways. However, the one benefit of my lack of funding is that I never run out of it; I research by day and work by evening and then I’ll write by day and work by evening. At this point I’m also not near to submitting as I’ll have another experiment to run as well so these pressures aren’t as impending for me. What was impending was my partner’s loss of funding so as a household we were looking at making some changes and picking up teaching hours to compensate. That was the plan…but then we broke up. Now I’m not using this blog as an emotional output but just to outline what’s been going on and how it’s effected everything. Breaking up brought its own challenges. I wasn’t a very healthy human for about a month and most things were just more difficult. This included research which can be taxing at the best of times never mind when you’re not in it mentally. Work as well suffered. I ended up dealing with this by taking everything day by day and by reaching out to friends. You really realise that you have people who care for you when you’re struggling to get on. I’ve developed some really good and supportive friendships from that time and without them I wouldn’t be where I am now. If you’re ever in that scenario the best thing you can do is listen to your body and mind and confide in people. The other side to a break up is becoming financially independent again. I’ve been in the incredibly lucky situation of being supported by student loans and a funded partner so have not had much in the way of financial struggles (and none since being an adult), for which I am very thankful. The abrupt change and worries they bring is really taxing mentally and impacts on everything else you do. I balance the amount I work such that I get enough hours to pay my bills and have a little extra without utterly exhausting myself. The downside to PAYE is the lack of cover if you need a day of which means I’m straddling the line most of the time and worry if I’m starting to feel ill. It also means that any small slip ups such as forgetting a bill can render you without anything until next pay day. It’s a stressful and abrupt transition which I’m still getting used to. Life skills you learn by doing can be intimidating when they have big impact. This doesn’t specifically relate to my research but as I’m sure you can imagine it’s a whole-life thing so it’s part of the big picture. However, I am also very lucky for being able to do teaching within the university and use that to build up savings again. So it’s not all struggle. Plus teaching is something I’ve always wanted to do as I find it incredibly rewarding so it’s a win-win. Which brings me to the next point…

Seriously Questioning What You Are Doing

I’ve never until now seriously questioned whether what I am doing is right for me. I’ve wanted to teach ever since a year 9 science class when I was so inspired by my teacher that I wanted to do the same for others one day. When I got to university to study biology I then learned about these fascinating people who not only share stories of nature but also find the answers to some of the questions about it too. From that I thought this may be the thing for me but without having some properly experience I could never be sure. I did what I could to gain research experience during my undergraduate and decided that a PhD would provide enough full on experience to make a good judgement as to whether researching and teaching at university was for me or if I’d be better suited being a high school teacher. Until recently, no matter how difficult it has been I’ve still been in that grey zone on unsureness. I’ve always told myself that I won’t make any judgements until I’ve gone through the full motions from ideas, to data, to story-telling. So far I haven’t managed that all yet and thus until I get the full experience I wanted to make no decisions. Recently, however, I’ve just felt so tired of everything and then with personal struggles on top of it all I actually started seriously considering moving to a teaching degree. I looked up courses and bursaries and considered where I may move to. It was a weird feeling being sat in Pret genuinely thinking I was in the wrong place in my life and that I should just stop and move on. Quite upsetting and it really makes you question a lot about yourself.

Suffice to say, I’m not leaving. But coming that close to wanting to when other aspects of life get tough has made me start to seriously think about whether after my time here I’ll want to continue. A research career just isn’t for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a challenge to my personal views about myself and makes me question the last three years of my life. It’s tiring learning to learn about the world like this. A PhD is a real test of your grit and enthusiasm and determination. If you ever find yourself in this sort of situation then take heart at knowing that it’s not just you. It happens to a lot of people and sharing your story really will help. There’s also nothing wrong with deciding that this path isn’t for you. There’s lots of be gained from a PhD that isn’t just setting you up for a career in research.

So that’s me and my recent months. All a bit gloomy really…but there’s little reason to pretend that it’s not true. The next two months are going to be spent wrapping up this experiment (at last) and then taking a break to see family and friends over christmas. I’ve got a few posts in the works too and i’ll return with a bit of an overview of hour years 1-3 have gone.

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

Stats pain, presentation, and a (very) welcomed break

Standard

Hi all 🙂

The last two months have brought some analysis of preliminary results, my second departmental presentation, and a holiday which couldn’t have been better timed.

Stats pain

If you want to go present at a conference you need something to present. In general, this means data and with data comes stats. Stats brings anxiety to many people and, whilst I thought I was making progress, I was no exception. I came up against multiple problems and some seemingly simple questions I had I couldn’t find any information online. (I should add here that yes my supervisor is great and walked me through the things I was stuck on but I really wanted to give the full picture a shot on my own first). Combined with a few very long days, some sleep deprivation, and a general sense of being fed up I had a bit of a break-down; feeling defeated, it was the data which broke the camel’s back.

A little down the line and after a rest I went through the analysis with my supervisor and found a tentative hit! I had a significant result! Whoop! Conference here I come! The result in question was an interaction between condition and the sex of the individual but the important next question was what was that interaction? To illustrate what I mean I’ll provide an example.

Imagine that you’re interested in whether being stressed affects memory. So you give a group of people a list of words to remember twice: once relaxed and once when you’re putting the pressure on. You then ask them to list all the words they remember. Now you may expect a difference based on the situation (condition) but would you expect them to differ based on their sex? A third option is that both could happen in different ways. For example, males may perform better under pressure whereas females may perform worse or any other different response you can imagine. This is called an interaction because the results depend on not only the individual factors but how they combine. Now the stats tells you that you have a significant effect of condition combined with sex, but what is that interaction? Do females get worse under pressure but males don’t change? Do males get worse and females get better? To work this out you perform post-hoc tests which identify the differences between pairs of measurements (females stressed v female relaxed, female stressed v male stressed,…). To cut a long story short, when you do this you raise the threshold at which you consider the results significant, in essence making it more difficult to find one but leaving you more sure that it’s a real finding, and in doing so my significant result disappeared. “Damn you Bonferroni!” I exclaimed at my desk.

Anyways, whilst that was a rather simple tour of my recent stats, no conference for me. I’m nowhere near finishing my experiment though so any exciting results were quite unlikely.

Presentation

Each year every PhD student in the department gives a talk about their work. My last one  wasn’t great; it was poorly timed, not very well constructed, and I wasn’t able to deal with questions well. One of the biggest lessons learned was: practice it! This time I arranged to give the talk to my lab group before for some feedback. Suffice to say, that didn’t go well. I mean, it went well regarding getting constructive feedback but I started with quite a messy presentation. But that’s why we practice! I took the feedback, simplified the slides, refined a few ideas, and added in several more slides to make points clearer. It was a good exercise and made me think harder about what are the real take home messaged for each part of the research.

Then it came to the actual presentation. I was quite nervous. I felt jittery and ended up grasping some white-tac whilst I spoke as comfort. Once I started though I felt a lot more comfortable. I went in telling myself “you are the expert in the room” and that mentality made me flip from feeling like it was a performance I was being judged on to being someone who is essentially teaching a collection of interested viewers. That settled me a lot. Overall the talk went well, I was only about a minute over, and I had very interesting questions which I was told I handled incredibly well. The only negatives I received were that my background was a little long (for someone from my lab group) and to avoid having something to fiddle with! Curse that distracting white-tac…Anyways, it was a good boost to my confidence both in my knowledge but also my presentation skills. Sadly I didn’t have any data so I’m eagerly looking forward to the next one when I can actually tell my story!

Holiday

By the time I put this out I’ll have been on holiday for a while and it could not have come soon enough! Suffice to say that the last few months have just been getting harder. I’ve felt quite defeated and deflated and that is in no small part due to the fact that I haven’t had a solid break in almost a year. I don’t have a great deal to say about this to be honest. We all need breaks and sometimes what we do make that difficult. For me it’s a combination of having to work PAYE to pay my bills and having an experiment I can’t take much time away from. But it does slowly exhaust you and I’m pretty sure that even now when I’m feeling rested that I’m still fatigued. I’m off to South Africa to see Cape Town and then going to Ulusaba for the safari. It’s going to be amazing I’m sure and if it’s anything like my holiday last year I’ll be totally relaxed by midday on day one! For now though (when I’m writing this) I’m just counting down the days until it begins.

So that’s me. The next few months will involve enjoying this holiday, resting up, and finishing the last 30% of my testing (and seeing a certain Avengers movie).

Thanks for reading ☺

BCT

Personal qualities you need to be successful in graduate school

Standard

Inspired by this tweet:

I had a think and decided that from my experience the following are important (but not all the) personal qualities which you really need to be successful in graduate school. Now these aren’t isolated traits, they definitely interrelate and support each other, but I’m going to outline here why I think they’re important and how they benefit you.

Enthusiam

The first one is so obvious that it probably wouldn’t even be considered by most people: you need to be enthusiastic. Wrapped up in enthusiasm is a passion for learning and a fascination with your discipline/topic but you ultimately have to find what you are doing genuinely interesting. As a starting point this is a must. It’s no good trying to dedicate a significant proportion of your life to something you do not find intrinsically interesting because you won’t put the time in, you’ll be less determined, and ultimately less likely to be successful. It’s the interest in the first place which brings us to want to learn more. Now this interest could be in a ‘pure’ sense (just a basic interest in the way something works) or in an ‘applied’ one (looking to solve particular medical, economic, or technological issues) but the driver has to start with interest and enthusiasm for the subject. At this point I’ll say that this doesn’t mean that you’re up and ready to go to do your work and talk about your topic at any given moment. We all have hard days/weeks/months and sometimes that interest wains. But it’s important that it’s there in the first place to get you through. On the topic of getting you through…

Resilience

Resilience is a life-lesson. You learn it by pushing further than you did before and using that to understand your limits next time. Resilience is a key aspect of any working environment and academia is no exception. Firstly, a lot of things don’t work. In fact, most things don’t work. There’s that quote out there about finding 99 ways to not make a lightbulb. Refining ideas and testing hypotheses is a lot like that. We test and test and test until eventually we’re left with the few results which tell a story. To push through that seemingly relentless series of obstacles or defeats you have to develop resilience. It enables you to take a set-back, work with it, and push on to find another way to achieve. It’s not something you have best refined before you start but it is certainly one you need to have developing and are willing to continue to during graduate school.

Humility

At first, humility may seem like a counter-intuitive quality to need. Think about it: you’re going to convince people to let you spend 3 or more years of your life egotistically studying something you find interesting which, in all honesty, probably won’t have any significant impact on most people bar those you tell the story to. That was a long sentence…That sounds like you certainly need a great sense of self-worth and great view of your own importance in the world. But I’d argue that in fact you need to develop a great sense of humility for exactly those reasons: you are seeking to study an immensely small part of a massive picture for which it will take a long time for anybody to appreciate. You cannot treat it and yourself as if they are the greatest and most important things in the world because they’re not. You are not the most capable or brilliant individual whose had the greatest ideas. You are one of a lot of very capable and determined individuals who are looking to add their own small piece to the puzzle of the world. Humility grants you the ability to be ok with failure and to look upon your colleagues not with envy but with understanding.

These traits work together, of course. Enthusiasm with resilience builds determination,  whilst with humility  enables you to be better at communication, and resilience with humility helps soften the blow of defeat as well as to learn from what’s past. Taken together, I would deem these the three pillars on which success in grad school lay.

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT