So first, an update for my readers – After a long absence from my blog, for which I send across my heart-felt apologies, I have decided to post more often, and even post shorter articles when I’m on the go. I hope you still like this form of more uninhibited writing. This way I do get to put my thoughts out more often! : )
Last week I attended the ‘Career Day for PhDs’ organized by my university. Career day refers to a day full of talks and stalls to inform early researchers about possible options in academia. A very informative day, but also a whole lot of advice giving and proclamations about skills to be developed, jobs to be searched, contacts to be made. An overwhelming event like this made me wonder if there are more basic skills behind this big ol’ PhD checklist.
So here goes, my top 3 things you should keep doing to ultimately meet your PhD goals.
1. Build Interdisciplinary Skills – the biggest misconception people have, is that a PhD is about applying what you have learnt in your entire education till now, or continuing what you have learnt so far. Nope. Its about learning everything there is to learn about a certain topic. And your field is probably not the only field thinking about this topic. So you need to learn how other sciences approach this topic, what they are doing about it, where the many fields meet and how you can use it. For e.g. if you are studying depression, you need to obviously know all the psychology theories behind it, but also the therapies, the cost on health care system, the medical approach to it, and maybe all the possible ways it is studied – using EEG, fMRI, perception to emotions, movement measurements everyday and so on.
You need to be a Jack of all trade and be a master of some…so don’t shy away from something that’s ‘not your field’.
2. Get Perspectives – a researcher’s life is full of convincing people your work is worth caring about; whether its applying for grants, publishing, or communicating to the industry/pop science magazine. Each of these people judge your work on different criteria…maybe on the scientific robustness, maybe on its contribution to society, maybe simply on the doability of research. But all of this means, you should have first thought of these aspects yourself.
The best way to think about your research thoroughly is to not restrict it to just your mind, but rather keep talking to different people, from different walks, about your work.
3. Keep your Scientific Curiosity – a lot of the post-docs I met yesterday said being in a PhD was like being in a tunnel. You just wanted the light at the end with no idea what was happening outside this PhD. This is actually a pretty normal and sometimes externally reinforced approach to doing a PhD. I realize myself that I fall prey to this pattern once in a while. But every time I get out of this tunnel vision, I realize why I am doing this project and enter back into the tunnel with better ideas and solutions, for my current project and for my future projects. I also think this balance is something that needs to be cultivated in the PhD years.
Every once in a while take time out to do things that are scientific, that interest you professionally, but are not related to your PhD.
Ultimately I’d just like to end with a thought which was my recurrent idea throughout the talks yesterday – don’t treat your PhD as a job, a collection of tasks, given to you for your skills, but a career that you willingly got into, a field you want to learn about and a community you willingly wanted to be a part of.