PhD students: Three nuggets of wisdom
Jay Stone (and friends)
I have been writing for the BSCB newsletter for three years.
Yep, you have had three years of my (sometimes) meandering thoughts, so for
this issue I have decided to do things differently. I have called upon some
fellow students and asked them to do a short report on something they feel is
important and should be mentioned. The results have been their individual
insights into three very different issues. I hope you find the stories
interesting and their advice useful.
'Coping with the commute' by Natalie Hudson
Commuting to and from work is commonplace. However, some of
us are faced with longer commutes than others. Although this means we have to
drag ourselves out of bed a few hours earlier, it also means that we can make
use of our travel time; catching up on some work, planning the day, reading
that book everyone is talking about or even giving in and having a little nap.
I used to commute from Brighton to London - spending
approximately three hours a day on a train. The one thing I learnt was that
public transport can be annoying with endless delays, breakdowns or in the case
of extreme weather, cancellations (snow days seem like fun but can be a huge problem
when you have key experiments planned). My advice would be to map out 'plan B'
options for getting home or even keep a lab mate on speed dial should you need
a place to rest your head that evening.
Commuting negates the luxury of procrastination. If you want
to get home at a reasonable hour you have to work efficiently. I often find it
is better to focus your attention on one long experiment or two overlapping
ones instead of trying to do too many things. Overstretching yourself will lead
to mistakes and unwanted stress.
Some people say that you can't do a PhD whilst commuting
long distance, but I am in my final year and have managed it. All I can say is
plan, prioritise and catch up on your sleep at the weekend!
'Insomnia irritation' by Emily Steed
Our work is not easy to leave in the lab is it? And
sometimes that buzz you get from an exciting result, the confusion you feel
from observing something unexpected or the anxiety you can't shake from an
upcoming presentation can make it difficult for us to relax. Having the odd
night of sleeping less then your recommended seven hours isn't too much of a
hassle, but when this lack of shut-eye continues for several nights you can be
left feeling exhausted, miserable and frustrated. But don't worry! There are
lots of things you can do to break the cycle and get that all-important rest
Obviously it is important to have some down time at the end
of each day where you can forget about work. Different things work for
different people; some of you might find socialising is the key, for others it
could be reading a good book and for some people the secret of a good nights
sleep is having a nice warm bath before bedtime. Either way it is important to
put work problems out of your mind, your ability to be able to deal with them
tomorrow will be much better if you get some rest. Also, do your best to keep work out of your bedroom -
it is good to only associate it with sleep so you will naturally want to rest
If you have tried all of this and find you still can't
sleep, don't lie there getting frustrated, get up and go to another room. If
there is something on your mind write it down and tell yourself you can sort it
out tomorrow, then go back to your room and try again. If the problem persists you can try
talking to your doctor, but usually I find stealing some time for yourself and
instilling a sense of calm, is enough to help you switch off and drift away.
'A world beyond the lab' by Kimberley Byron
A PhD is a full time job! It always feels like there is more
you could be doing; numerous papers that you should read, extra experiments you
could do and another presentation to plan. However, I think it is important to
remember that there is scientific community outside the lab and if you plan
your time wisely there is no reason why you can't explore it!
I am really interested in public engagement and jump at the
chance to get involved in all things science communication related.
Volunteering for school visits or science fairs are a small commitment and can
be flexible so you can fit it around work. Writing for newspapers or websites
can feel more time-consuming, with research and drafting being needed but these
activities can easily be broken up to fit into an incubation time or cell
Getting the balance right can be challenging, as there are
always more science communication opportunities than you'll have time for.
However, I think that you only get as much out of your PhD as you put in and
when I am having a particularly bad experiment day, it is refreshing to realise
that there is more to my scientific career then what I do in the lab.