Lessons I have learned from my PhD

Before doing an actual PhD, I used to believe that  intelligence and hardwork are the only requirements of doing a successful PhD and personality traits have little or nothing to do with it. However, I learned the hard way that the journey is far more complicated and there are factors other than intelligence and hard work that can appear crucial to your PhD. Although knowing the real world of PhD would not change my determination to be a scientist, knowing those factors beforehand could have helped save enrgy and make my  journey much smoother. Here are a few tips based on my personal experience of doing a PhD for those who haven’t started yet or are early in their journey:

Self awareness is the king. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is the key to perform a fruitful PhD journey. Many of us might be good at knowing our strengths, but when it comes to our weaknesses, our unconscious reaction is to either ignore them or hide them and If you don’t take control of your weakness early in your journey, that could end up to a truly daunting journey. When I started my PhD, I used to be a perfectionist who was also extremly afraid of being judged. That had led me to have trouble approaching people to ask for help or ideas, therefore ,undergoing a lot of unnecessary pressure and loss of energy.  I was also a horrible presenter just because I was extremely nervous in front of public. I am still nervous in front of public, but the difference now is that I am not trying to hide the stress anymore. Instead, I try to acknowledge its presence and control my performance rather than my stress. 

It is, however, really important to be able to recognise that there is a difference between self awareness and self criticism, the latter being largely destructive. Developing self awareness is also a precondition to developing a mutual understanding between ourselves and co-workers and mutual understanding is obviously the key to conflict free and happy relationships at work. 

Resilience is the art of  coping with stress, adversity and change through enhancing your confidence, optimism, problem solving and communication. If you are like me and your PhD journey is coincident with migration and its unique complications and on the top of that having a baby in the meantime, be prepared to be challenged massively. There might be numerous circumstances where you see yourself in a dead end with no way out. You feel trapped and empty. This situation is totally understandable and there is nothing wrong with that. It can happen to everyone. You can’t get the results you want, your experimental design doesn’t work, your equipment stop behaving and you have deadlines to meet. In addition to these, you don’t have much common with people around you. They seem to you like aliens from another world. You have also family commitment and have to juggle family and work. These are all normal feelings and phases that everyone can go through. You can’t and shouldn’t avoid such circumstances but you can manage your attitude toward them. The important thing in such situations is to stay confident and positive, pull together your strengths and communicate, communicate and communicate. 

Communication and transparency is an important factor contributing to a successful PhD. It is really important that you communicate your expectations from people you work with clearly. Don’t expect your supervisors to be mindreaders. Don’t be shy and let them know what level of freedom or support you need and ask expectations of your supervisors and other team members as well. Be transparent about your planned milestones and ask them the same. That helps a lot in developing a trustworthy and collaborative environment. 

Social skills while doing PhD and investing time in learning technical skills, it is really vital to invest in your social and networking skills as well. Don’t waste even a single chance to network. Get your work out and let others outside of your team know what you do. You never regret hearing other perspectives on your work. Sometimes, that can be the only way to free you from the nightmare of not getting anywhere. In addition, I guess it is not necessary to mention that your network can appear extremely valuable in your job search following your PhD. 

However, bear in mind that it is very normal if you don’t feel comfortable with networking. Referring to self awareness here again, just try to find out why. For me, being an introvert had little to do with my uncomfortable feeling at networking  but it was mainly due to lack of enough confidence originated from my fear of being judged. Work on the origin of your uncomfortable feelings and develop strategies to obtain control over them. 


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