We have highlighted the Struggles of doing a PhD many times before. However, there are also so many amazing sides to doing a PhD that, at times, fade a bit to the background. Today I felt it was necessary to unapologetically tell you about why I love doing a PhD. I say unapologetically because sometimes it really feels like I am crazy. So many people around me remind me about what is wrong with academia all the time and why they cannot wait to leave it, that it sometimes starts to feel like there must be something wrong with me to love what I am doing so much.
Don’t get me wrong it is not that I don’t see all the problems and craziness in the academic world. I even agree with most people that it is definitely not pretty. And if you have listened to the cursed experiment episode then you know that it also at times becomes too much for me. I am also definitely not saying that I will never leave academia or that an academic career is really for me. I am just saying that right now, in my little PhD world, I am just happy.
So why do I love it so much?
Now it should not come as a surprise, that as the host of a Science podcast, I absolutely love science. I cannot imagine ever stopping learning and discovering new things. The constant striving to know more keeps things interesting for me. And there are so many topics out there that are interesting, even if I cannot research them all myself, I can read the amazing papers of others that dedicated their life to the subject.
One of the things I really love about the PhD are the people. The people in science are just such interesting and amazing humans. And I don’t believe I just lucked out with my group because I meet them everywhere. Humans that are intellectual and willing to have proper discussion about literally everything, but at the same time will get way to drunk at the next drinks.
The people in Science are (at least in my environment) very openminded and very accepting of how every human is unique and different. In fact, being different and weird is celebrated! Creativity and out of the box thinking are stimulated and a Pi that walks around on his socks in the offices because he can think better without shoes is just accepted. I love being in an environment where everybody knows I am weird and that is just ok.
I know a common problem for PhDers is a lack of support. But I am so very blessed to have the support I need. Not only is my Pi always there when I need him just 3 doors over. But my colleagues with whom I work every day are always there for a (pre-corona) hug, or a coffee break just when you need it. I think it helps a lot that we actually are in the lab every day and work together so much. But we also all really try to make an effort with having regular drinks and game nights together.
Now I might just be repeating myself at this point. But I love the group I am working in. All the people are different and unique, which is amazing. But they are also so kind, willing to help, fun, and supportive when it is needed. Of course, there have been some more difficult times too, but I am already dreading the moment I will need to leave this group after my PhD. Why is Science like this!!
Another thing I really love about the PhD is all the independence I have to lead my own projects. Now of course my Pi likes to occasionally hear (every 2 weeks) what I am up to now. But leading the projects and making them progress is really up to me. At times that seems like too much pressure but most times I love the freedom this gives me.
The helping others
Especially now I am getting to the final stages of the PhD I really get the sense that I can help others. Even if it is just by answering a million quick questions in a day. I love that I can help others with their science. And I also used to love the help I received from the more experienced PhDers when I just started out. It is not just my colleagues though that are so willing to help. I have found that so many people in Science are kind and willing to help you figure things out, even if you have never met, your email will 9/10 times be answered and help will be offered. We all know how difficult it can be! And maybe a tiny part of ourselves also loves to show of our hard-won knowledge and expertise ;).
And that leads to the next point. I love how this willingness to help others automatically leads to collaborations where you work together to discover something. Often this leads to amazing new insights that you could not have achieved alone.
Another thing I love is congresses. Getting the opportunity to talk to others about science is always a great deal of fun. And that you sometimes get to travel to cool places is not bad either of course. The best part for me is talking with other PhDers about what they are researching. Their enthusiasm gives me fresh energy for my own work. And taking a step back and telling someone about your project can really help to get a new perspective.
The meeting new people
A part of going to congresses is also meeting these amazing and inspirational new people from all over the world. Without my PhD I would have never gotten the opportunity to meet them.
In my day to day work life I really appreciate the freedom I have to decide myself when I work and what my schedule looks like. I get to decide if I prefer working mornings or evenings (to a certain point) and I get to decide what my planning is that day. I don’t think there are many jobs out there that gives this type of freedom when you are not your own boss.
Every day is different. It is very rare for me to do the same thing multiple days in a row. Now it is almost always too much and often stressful, but the variation keeps it interesting for me.
So, I usually do not end up doing that day what I had planned. A million things come up that need to be handled first and all of a sudden, my priorities can shift from left to right depending on the outcome of an experiment. Other times machines break down, cells die, and my entire week needs to be thrown around. Luckily there is always a billion other things to do to keep you busy ;). Now for most people I think this complete randomness would be a negative, but not me. I thrive in chaos, and I love not always knowing what I will be doing that day. Now that does not mean I am not organized. I have a very clear view of what needs to be done. I just like rolling with the punches and taking the optimal road that day.
The pushing yourself
Now if I look at what I am doing today I have so much improved from where I started out 3 years ago. It wasn’t always fun in the moment but pushing yourself and improving is definitely worth it afterwards.
The overcoming trials
Now if you have listened to the cursed experiment episode you know that I had to overcome a lot in just that one experiment. And in the whole PhD even more. But the feeling you get when you have conquered your problem and actually solved it is amazing. It makes it all worth it in the end
The eureka moments
Now sometimes you have those moments that things actually seem to make sense. They don’t happen very often and they usually don’t even last that long XD. But eureka moments are a thing I truly love about science.
The educating yourself
One of the major skills you learn during your PhD is how to teach yourself new skills. You really learn that there is nothing you cannot educate yourself on. This is also very useful in your personal life. Without this sometimes-harsh lesson we would not have started our podcast 😉
The PhD offers many opportunities that you would otherwise not get. Sometimes this is just traveling to a congress, or going to another lab for a few months. Sometimes this is teaching, taking a class, or being on the board of a congress organizing committee. There are many things out there if you know how to find them. So, go find what makes you happy!
Now partying with scientists can be a lot of fun. Those normally so intellectual people can also go wild! Don’t be surprised if you suddenly find out midnight skinny dipping is the highlight of the congress you just found yourself at. But what happens at congress stays at congress!
The scientific world has some problems. And those problems can vary from country to country, from institute to institute and from group to group. But overall, I think the scientific environment is very stimulating you to get to the best of yourself. This can be a lonely process, but also very rewarding. Try to surround yourself with other scientists that are supportive and you can complain to. The best advice I can give is to be kind and helpful and find others that do the same. You might not always get the same energy back from the academic world but don’t let that turn you into something you are not. The academic world needs people who love science and are supportive to make a change.
I decided when I was 15 that I wanted to be a Scientist. And here I am living my dream! It can be hard at times to remember all the good, and I think this unapologetic love letter to science was more for me then for you readers ;). Sometimes you just need to remember why and then everything makes sense again. I hope you enjoyed my positivity outburst and we would love to hear your comments below.