Ever since I started my journey in science at university, I’ve always been aware of just how much you can achieve – when you should be doing something else. If you’re anything like me, procrastination is a way of life. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I would argue that I do some of my best thinking when my mind is occupied by something else, and I know that there are many others out there like me who would agree.
I champion this philosophy, however, with a caveat: procrastination needs structure. The way that I do this is by allocating time to endeavors that will enrich my life someway either in the short or the long term. When it comes to work, that often means advancing my professional development or employment potential. There is a whole range of different things that PhD students can get involved with to give them some guilt-free time away from their research project. Here are a few things that I’ve done in my PhD that was not only a lot of fun but make my CV shine.
I was actually incredibly lucky to get involved with this because it is a relatively new program. i-Teams is a 12-week initiative for post-doctoral researchers and PhD students to get hands-on research with technology commercialization. We got together once a week for a few hours and gained a whole load of new skills, like presenting to industrial audiences and networking in the commercial sector. Working with a team of people from different disciplines in science was fantastic and really made me think about things in new ways.
Building a project presentation with a group of people was surprisingly challenging and there were inevitably conflicts of creative viewpoints. Despite this, we came together and delivered an engaging and impactful final presentation. Contacting people from industry (with the provided training) about our technology also gave me some key insights into the commercial world, and made me think more about the application of my own research. Enterprise and innovation is something that is being pushed strongly in the academic world, so take advantage of that!
Norwich Science Festival
i-Teams was a lot of fun, and while there are only a handful of opportunities like it out there, commercialization and industry might not be for you. Another good way to diversify your skill set and have some fun at the same time is to get involved in public engagement and science communication. Sometimes, the days in the lab are long. It’s easy to question why I’m really doing what I do, seeing faces filled with fresh enthusiasm reminds me of why I got into science in the first place. Giving something back to the local community is also incredibly rewarding. As a community we produce some great research, it feels good to get out there, show it off and be proud of it!
Perhaps one of the highlights of my PhD and an experience that I’ll remember forever was volunteering with the Science, Art, and Writing (SAW) trust at Latitude festival. Our lab works closely with the SAW trust and we use our colonies of leaf cutter ants to communicate to the public about the work we do in the search for new antibiotics. Transporting a live colony a few miles for a local event is one thing, but a two-hour drive with four days of camping was something else entirely!
Our collaborators at entomology did a fantastic job engineering a system to keep the ants warm at night (they are native to Central and South America). Anyone who has been to a music festival will know that it is draining. It’s impossible to sleep properly and there are a lot of late nights. Outreach in its own way is also one of the most tiring things I’ve done, so a combination of the two made for an exhausting experience, but a fantastic one at that.
These are just a few of my personal highlights at the end of the day. Opportunities come and go, and what I find rewarding might not be your cup of tea. I guess the real message here, is that a PhD is a unique time in your life, three or four years will pass by in the blink of an eye. Make sure you look back in years to come with fond memories, and not just a frantic blackout of data generation!
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash
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