I feel like I’m coming onto the home straight! I’ve officially started the final year of my PhD! This time next year, my thesis will be written and handed in, I might have even had my PhD viva and be Dr Arthur and who knows where in the world I will be doing goodness knows what job!
But three years ago when I started I definitely had some ideas about what a PhD was going to be like, but so many of those thoughts and beliefs have been blown apart! I imagine all you newbie grad students have got similar expectations to what I did, so I thought I would try and bust some PhD myths to prepare you for the next few years of your life! I’ve already busted 3 more common PhD myths back in Volume 1, but there are so many more I thought I would bust some more!
Myth 4 – I have no positive data! I’m not going to pass my PhD!
This one is wrong on so many levels! First of all, there is no such thing as negative data! With every experiment that you do, you are generating novel knowledge. Okay – it might not be that massive breakthrough you are craving! But even knowing that those particular experimental conditions don’t work, that’s adding to your knowledge! Even knowing that one particular protein isn’t having an effect on your cells, that’s adding to your knowledge! Every experiment you do is getting you closer to that end goal. No matter how small the step, you are still progressing.
But what happens if this carries on for the rest of your PhD? Well – you will be incredibly unlucky first of all! But I want to share a story with you that my supervisor often reminds us of. My supervisor had a PhD student a few years ago who spent 3 years working on one question and generated no novel data! Everything that they tried showed no difference or disproved their hypothesis and didn’t fit with the picture – although this wasn’t seen as positive, I want to clarify that all this is still novel data! In their viva or PhD defence, it was a continuous cycle of we tried this and it didn’t work, we then tried this and that didn’t work either! But this student still came out with a PhD. They defended why they chose each option and showed an understanding of troubleshooting! So, just remember, a PhD is not about the actual story you produce but whether you have actually learnt to become a researcher!
Myth 5 – I need to spend as much time out of the lab as in the lab!
Okay – so this one is going to vary depending on what stage you are at in your PhD and what deadlines you have! Sometimes you will have to do 14 hour days in the lab or come in every day for 4 months straight! That is a sacrifice you will have to make sometimes to make progress on your work!
But DO NOT make this your normal routine! Spending time out of the lab not thinking about your research is just as important to keep you motivated, focused and healthy during what will be at least three tough years of your life! Don’t think that because you’re not in the lab, you’re not making progress and are going to fail your PhD! That won’t happen! In fact, I think it will do the opposite and make you more productive when you are actually doing your experiments because you won’t want to miss out on that trip to the pub with your friends or going to join your teammates for that hockey game! Schedule in time for yourself as well as your experiments! A balanced PhD student is a happy PhD student! Self-care is not selfish!
Myth 6 – Doing experiments is the only way to progress your research!
If you’re like me and work with cells that are high maintenance divas, then there could be times in your PhD where you could spend months with no cells to do experiments on for example, and the samples you collected before soon get processed! Now you’re stuck with nothing to do! For the next few months I will be getting nowhere! While you might be getting nowhere fast in the lab, you can be making progress at your desk instead! Don’t underestimate the value and power of background reading! Knowing the latest developments in your field can help you perform the right experiments that could save you weeks or even months in the lab! It will also help with any questions you get asked after talks you give and at conferences if you know more about the background! It will help you to critique your work better! And it’s going to help writing that thesis a little bit easier too if you know your stuff! So if you can’t get in the lab, make progress on your thesis or your latest presentation and start getting through that ‘To Read’ pile that just seems to keep growing!
More PhD myths busted on this fresh, crisp November Monday! Hopefully its given you some extra motivation today!
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!
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