Everyone has their pre-conceived ideas and beliefs about PhD students or life as a PhD student. Me included! But now, three years down the road, I feel like I’ve experienced everything a PhD has to throw at me – wishful thinking I know! – so I thought I would try and dispel some commonly held beliefs about being a PhD student; starting with the 3 PhD myths I think most people believe.
Myth 1 – Your supervisor is always right!
Your PhD supervisors are experts in their field, so they must know everything you need to know right? Wrong! They might be experts in their field, but you can’t expect them to know everything in an ever changing field of science research. They have to keep up to date with new studies just as much as you do, because a PhD is making you an expert in your field too!
But I’m not saying don’t listen to them! They will be your ‘go-to’ person for advice and background reading tips during your first few years of your PhD, but there will come a stage when you need to take the lead – whether that is in designing experiments, writing a paper, or simply telling your supervisor that they are wrong about something!
This comes with confidence and experience. When I started my PhD I would have never dreamed about challenging my supervisor about something. To me, they were the all knowledgeable Gods of my research, but with time I have realised that I am the expert in my area. My supervisors will advise, of course, but it’s me teaching them about certain things now as much as they are teaching me!
Myth 2 – You must be a slave to your PhD to pass!
You might be thinking that you don’t want to do a PhD because I am going to have to work all waking hours of the day for the next 3+ years. While PhD students do have to work hard to meet deadlines, you don’t have to have a months supply of dinners at your desk or your PJs and a sleeping bag in the lab to pull an all-nighter!
A work-life balance is critical to remaining focused, motivated and determined to succeed during your PhD. And any self-respecting supervisor will completely understand that! I can assure you that it is difficult to find the balance because you can sometimes feel guilty that you haven’t got the result this week but you also don’t want to not spend enough time in the lab to get as much out of this experience as you can. It is a fine balance that I am struggling to keep. But I know it can be done because I see so many other PhD students around me doing it!
You can become a slave to your PhD, but don’t let it suck you in completely! Find that time to socialise! Find that time to relax however you want to, because a PhD is hard work and you have to recharge your batteries every once in a while! And you don’t have to have the biggest, fattest thesis to pass your PhD viva in the end! It’s all about quality, over quantity!
Myth 3 – Everyone else in your lab knows exactly what they are doing!
Starting off in a new lab is incredibly daunting because you feel like you know nothing while you watch all the other postdocs and PhD students rattling out – and that’s all in one day!
Now while they may have more lab experience than you and look like they are completely in control of everything, just remember they were once in your shoes and they are probably just not showing how unsure they are about a whole heap of things.
The others working around you must inspire you because they were once feeling how you are feeling, but look at them now! And in a few years time that will be you too rattling out multiple experiments, writing papers and bossing that presentation all in one day! Plus just remember that the nature of research is to find answers to questions that noone else has done before. The others in your lab might be trying to figure out new techniques, a new research question or simply what those results mean! That’s exactly what you will be doing when you start off! So, don’t worry! They might have more experience than you but they are having the same problems of uncertainty as you will. You just have the advantage as you can ask them for advice and help 🙂
Three common PhD myths busted! And there are many more to come! Take a look at Volume 2 here.
I thought I could make this into another mini series on my blog. So if you are a newbie PhD student and have some worries about what life as a PhD student is like then get in touch in the comments below or via my social media, and I will try and bust those myths in future volumes of PhD Mythbusters. Or if you are a PhD student and there is a myth you think should be included, perhaps from your own experience, then let me know too!