Mental Health

PhD: is it for me?

To answer this question, I believe we must discuss what a PhD is. Therefore, in this post I will describing what a PhD is based on my experience as a PhD student.

PhD is survival

When I started my PhD, I was overwhelmed. 24 hours was not enough to take classes and study, rotate in different labs, choose the right lab with the right advisor, make it on time to all the first-year activities, and perform 100% in every single task. Oh, and still make time for eating and sleeping (maybe?).

The fun part began, after talking with the program directors and current students. I was told that the best strategy to complete your PhD was to prioritize and manage your time wisely, which makes sense. Right after that statement, it was implied that pretty much EVERYTHING was a priority.

Nonetheless, graduate students (like myself) continue the PhD despite how “meh”, “ugh” or “grr” we might feel about it.

But why?

I believe that the motivation and perseverance of a graduate students comes from a true passion for science. We love creating new knowledge!

PhD is science

In my previous blog I mentioned that science is about 10% of a PhD. Yet, it is still the most important aspect of a PhD. Science is the fuel of a PhD. Science should be the main reason for choosing a PhD since it is what it will keep you moving forward despite all the challenges.

My interest in math and science was evident since middle school however, it wasn’t until boarding school that I truly discovered my passion for science. During college, I couldn’t make up my mind. I knew I loved science, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to use science. It took several internships and extracurricular activities to finally realized that I enjoyed doing experiments. That’s how I decided that I wanted a PhD. Of course, I had no clue as to what expect. Despite the challenges, I continued. Science was (and still is) my fuel.

Find your passion!

Finding your passion can be a difficult task, though not impossible. There are many (MANY!) opportunities that will allow you to explore different areas of science and even get hands-on experiences. For example, I applied to summer research internships and established mentor-mentee relationships. Without those experiences and relationships, I wouldn’t have been able to make my decision and make it this far into my PhD. Furthermore, without those experiences I wouldn’t have figured out if science was my true passion and something I wanted to do for a long time.

Now, this also applies to current graduate student. If you are already in a PhD program but you joined without truly understanding what you were passionate about, take the time to do so. Your passion will help you find the motivation you need to continue or realize that maybe a PhD wasn’t really for you (and that is okay!).

Undergraduates, graduates and pretty much everyone else, make sure you make time to figure out what you are truly passionate about. Your passion will lead you to success.

PhD is you

I can’t put into words how difficult graduate school can be.

Three years ago, I began this journey. Even though I wasn’t sure how to prepare for it, I did my best. I learned how to be a scientist. However, I didn’t realize that a PhD is a lot more than that.

A PhD is about…

  • you, your passion and desire to help others by creating new knowledge.
  • the person you want to become, what you hate or love, what you want to do or what you rather avoid and what you want to learn and teach.
  • becoming the person that you want to be and the role model you always looked up to.

With each experiment, we learn that every single detail matter. We learn that that life is not just what is presented to you because there are more unknowns than knowns. And most importantly, we learn that if something doesn’t work the first time, you can try again.

So, what is a PhD?

I might have described many aspects that can be considered as “negative” or “daunting”. But in a PhD, there is more good than bad. Yes, it is difficult, overwhelming and sometimes it might seem as an impossible task to complete. Nonetheless, a PhD is exciting and rewarding. We get to create new hypothesis and use your ideas to design experiments and answer questions that haven’t been answered before. Graduate students also get to travel! We present our data to the scientific community and in return, we get to explore new cities. More significantly, we get to do what we LOVE!

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