Whether I like it or not, doing a PhD is the most challenging period of my life. All PhD students know that well; we are leading a totally different life from anyone else. What does this life look like though?
Tubes vs Patients
When people hear that I am working on actual clinical trials in a field called “Clinical Pharmacology”, they imagine patients all around me, swallowing drugs I give them. The truth is I am only ‘playing’ with their samples in the lab and their data in my computer. Looking after these data is equally important though. If not for them, for the scientific community, for my supervisor, the University and the funder of the clinical study. Most of all, they are essential for completing my research work and contribute to better understanding their therapy needs. Okay, okay… Enough with the “scientific terminology”, let’s get to easier concepts.
It feels like home
My lab is my natural environment. It is where I spend an important amount of my time every day, including the time I supervise students that have project placements. If you are not inspired by your lab environment, you are not a real PhD student; you are lying!
A train full of training
Postgraduate researchers need to undergo a complicated combination of training, as well. So, the time we don’t actually spend in the lab, transferring liquids from bottle to tube and vice versa; the time we don’t spend in statistical software doing analysis of our data; this little, previous time is dedicated to our training. Ethical considerations, knowledge of the educational and health system, skills development sessions, lab skills and research dissemination are just an indication of what we learn.
Seminars never end
Everything put in practice
And we learn from experience. As a bright example of this, you decide to attend a training about public speaking. What would you expect? A knowledgeable person giving a presentation with all those tips they have to transmit. You wish! What do you have instead? A practical session where you are asked to introduce yourself and present your research interests in front of strangers. Well, I guess you see my point.
When I mentioned before about research dissemination, I meant it! We are usually asked (to be honest, I do volunteer sometimes) to present part of our work in informal or formal sessions. From a lay summary in front of a public audience, to chats among PhD students, to seminar series of our Institute and scientific meetings. Even in big international conferences. The most difficult of these, you might ask… The first one! And that’s because we get so used to using scientific language while explaining what we do, that we just find it so hard to express it in a simple way.
Teaching: another part of my postgraduate life
So many amazing opportunities, so little time to get involved with every single one of them. Since I got involved with demonstrating in lab practicals, I realised how important it is to pass on my knowledge and how much more I appreciate my research experiences. Teaching has made me a better researcher, with even more attention to detail and problem solving skills. Including the supervision of students and tutoring for pupils, there are plenty of ways you can get involved as well.
From my latest demonstration in a pharmacology practical
How I spend my day
The good thing about research is that no day is the same as the previous. There is no normal day or daily routine for me. At least while on experiments mode. When working in the lab, I have found it more efficient to start early in the morning, as my mind is clear and my hands are not tired. Lab work has its own challenges, and I do care when things don’t work. A “lab book” is always kept updated, with literally everything that I have done and in which circumstances.
My personal diary is also full of notes about lab supplies, orders, plan of experiments and other similar things for the students I supervise. Abstract submission deadlines and communication with collaborators are other things included in my diary, however these are a bit more boring. Just like the periods that I spend writing down my results.
Accurate recording of research is essential for my work
Being a researcher is not an easy job. There is a lot to be taken into consideration. This lifestyle is incomparable to anything else I had experienced. If you haven’t been in this position, you can never tell how it feels like. But if you plan to live like this, make sure you enjoy it and make the most out of it. You might only have a chance in life to learn so many things within such a short period of time. The satisfaction you get is what matters at the end of the day.