Week 20 as a PhD student

We have reached a tiny milestone this week, this is my twentieth consecutive week of writing, and the fifth month of my PhD. I have just come to the end of a hectic period; as the light of the tunnel came within a few metres, I received more tunnel. The first piece is in the form of an exam, and I need to do an online course culminating in an exam, to be able to attend a course allowing me to use liquid nitrogen. Of course, this is something I want to do and will help me with many experiments, but the notion that I have to sit an exam still sends shivers down my spine. I have a few weeks to complete the course, so it is not an immediate priority. The second piece of the tunnel is the first of my bi-yearly reports. I have to fill out a form and produce a thousand word document on the work I have done thus far. This gets assessed by my primary supervisor and an external assessor: I have one month to complete this.

I am starting to worry that this recent trend of deadline-after-deadline will continue until I am finished my PhD. The pressure will keep building with each week that goes by, and there is no time for thinking. I am seriously considering blocking out part of my diary for thinking, My project is quite broad, and has some philosophical elements to it. For example, what does ‘fresh’ mean? My conclusion is that ‘fresh’ is a simile for ‘recently’. Shelf life and how to define it is a much more challenging proposition, and for me, requires a lot of thinking.

This week I received more details about my Knowledge Transfer Network course that I have to attend as part of my studentship on a yearly basis. It is a two-day course, which will be held Glasgow’s Hilton hotel, where I have got to attend different workshops. These include things like: maths for biologists, advanced data analysis, managing social media and so on. Again this comes back to the strangeness of higher education, where for an undergraduate degree you have to sell your soul, at PhD level you get paid to do the most fantastic things. For that reason alone I would recommend doing a PhD, especially is your primary joy in life is learning.

This week I have been extracting data from the previous weeks experiments, which were the extraction and quantification of glucosinolates and isothiocyanates from rocket leaves. I am looking at these compounds for potential markers of shelf life; in an ideal world, they would change in a predictable linear fashion over time so that I can use them as makers of shelf life. So far, it looks as if Isothiocyanates do reduce over time; however, I have only used small sample sizes so far, and need a more significant experiment to confirm this. I have not been able to analyse the glucosinolates yet as the damn undergrads are hogging the computer that has the software on it. I will install the software on my laptop next week! Agilent Chemstation for those who are wondering. I may or may not have taken the databases from the lab’s computers so I can use them on my laptop. I have also continued work on my review paper, and this is an arduous task at the moment as I don’t know what I am trying to say. Progress is slow, but it will get easier; I need to keep setting time aside to write, as I have been demoting it to a secondary activity, with experiments being the primary.

I feel like I am at a peak at the moment, as I am looking forward to a lot of things, and the dips (deadlines) are while away. I shall enjoy this time, for I know it is only temporary.

 

Note –  this was written approximately three months ago.

Author: Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

7 thoughts on “Week 20 as a PhD student”

  1. I love that part about selling your soul for an undergrad degree. Very many respectful bows sent your way for the doctoral studies! Like my career in engineering, lots of writing, technical work, computer work – and often you need the software on your own device, so you have opportunity to use it. My bane are pesky interns! Only kidding. They will make fine professionals – someday.

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  2. I finished a Ph.D. in a business discipline in the United States many years ago. I did it on a part-time basis after some time in the military and in industry, while starting a family and maintaining full-time employment. That part of my life was not fun. Your fears about continuing deadlines will come true. They are is part of the game and will continue. I had a very satisfying career, however, and the stress is worth it. My advice to you is to stick with it as long as your personal relationships remain intact. They will be stressed, particularly if the people you have relationships with are not part of academia and do not understand the strange pressures and demands of a Ph.D. program. You may find it necessary to cut out some non-related activities (blogging?), but don’t let your personal relationships suffer. I am not advocating that you drop blogging, since I enjoy reading about someone just starting down the Ph.D. path even though it is a different discipline and a different country. I hope you are able to continue blogging and completing your Ph.D. successfully, but take care of your relationships, and prioritize your non-Ph.D. activities. I look forward to reading your entries, and will enjoy your successes vicariously! Hang in there!!

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I am trying to prioritise other things in my life so that I am not constantly working; I am optimising my life for happiness and would happily quit my PhD if I was constantly miserable. Although, I would go through a significant struggle first!

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