Recently all the new PhD students arrived, and in their first week they receive an induction from the graduate school. The induction provides a lot of the information they need to know for the next few years and also includes a talk from a current PhD student… cue this particular student. That’s right I gave a talk to probably 100-120ish new PhD students and it was mildly terrifying. I’m not entirely happy with my talk, I rushed it a little and didn’t say everything quite in the order I planned which probably meant it could’ve come across better, but overall I’m confident I shared the main points I intended to, these were:
- Your PhD is part of your life, it’s not your whole life. I’ve successfully passed probation without working weekends, if you’re smart with your time this is achievable. Of course I might pop in on the odd weekend (if I’m already near by) to do something quick but as a general rule I have Sat/Sun as non-lab days. I think this is something really important to highlight, as some students feel that if they aren’t working everyday they aren’t doing enough, I wanted to show them I’m living breathing proof that this isn’t the case.
- Take advantage of the opportunities available to you. I think I’ve done a lot over the past year, I’ve blogged, I’ve been a brilliant club tutor, I’ve demonstrated for undergraduates, I’ve attended conferences, and as PhD student there are so many opportunities for you to consider. You don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to do it all at once but you’re unlikely to ever have the same flexibility in your life as when you’re a PhD student, so make the most of it. While I remembered to tell new students all about the Brilliant Club, demonstrating and blogging I completely forgot about travel and conferences. I’ve been lucky enough to attend two conferences in my first year, one large and one much smaller, and next week I get to spend a week working away in another lab. These are the kind of opportunities we should be jumping on as PhD students (even if the idea of working in another lab, in another country is a bit terrifying).
- Finally I mentioned imposter syndrome. This feeling of inadequacy that many of us (within and outside of academia) will experience. I’ve felt it countless times already, and conversations with other PhD students tells me they sometimes feel the same. We hold ourselves to high standards – this is brilliant, but we cannot and are not expected to know all the answers all the time. The fear we’ll be discovered as not actually good enough to be undertaking PhD’s is something we need to accept and handle as a normal but untrue part of our experience. We have all put in the work that means we deserve to be where we are.
So that’s a snapshot of my talk, giving it was scary but a good experience, which is the whole reason I decided to do it. I think it’s important for the new students to understand that what they’ll feel over the next year (and beyond) is normal, and most of all that they should take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. One demonstrating job may lead to another, or blogging may lead to giving a talk to all the new students, whatever “extras” you decide to take on just make sure you are doing it as more than a CV padding exercise. Genuine passion for the activities you do means you will get the most from them and give them the attention they deserve.