[A message from the editor: Sophie is a runner up in our Tipbox writing competition and she’s here to dispel some of the grad school horror stories and serve up the realities of research! Sophie is a PhD student at the University of Southampton, heading into her final year studying stem cell metabolism, and is a keen sci-comm enthusiast. You can find more of Sophie’s writing here on her blog, Sophie talks science, and on Twitter.]
Grad school has got a bad rep! Now, I’m by no means belittling the daily struggles a grad student faces. Trust me, it’s tough! Pursuing a postgraduate degree in the life sciences is seriously draining physically, mentally, and emotionally. Hey, if getting a PhD was that easy everyone would be doing one, right?
But, so many embark on the postgraduate journey that there must be some good to it, right? While it’s definitely tough at times, science research can actually be an enjoyable and totally rewarding experience! So, instead of focusing on the negatives, I’m going to bless your day with what I think are the 7 best things about grad school and why the tassel really is worth the hassle!
1. You’re at the forefront of scientific discovery!
As a PhD student in research, you’ll almost always be treading in unknown waters. This is scary and is probably one of the reasons you get so frustrated and feel like you don’t belong. But what could be more exciting than when you get that missing piece of the puzzle and realize you are the first person EVER to make that discovery?! You’re basically the Christopher Columbus of your particular field and you should be darn proud of it *insert fist bump emoji here*.
2. This ain’t no 9–5!
Doing a PhD is more flexible than you think and not full of HR people clocking your hours every single day. I show up to the lab at 10am, well, because I can! Of course, there are days where your pipettes will be keeping you company until the small hours of the AM, or you will have to feed your cells on bank holidays – but the take home message is that your hours are as flexible as they can get! So, if you’re no early bird, like me, and fancy coming in at nearly noon – go for it! Get your work done, but live your life! Because guess who’s going to yell at you – not your cells and probably not your PI.
3. Doing experiments is actually pretty fun!
In what other profession do you get to look at glowing cells under the microscope or fiddle (safely!) with powders and x-ray films? The answer: none. It is one of the coolest jobs in the world – even if everyone’s reply to you saying you’re a scientist is “So when are we going to cure cancer?” Plus unlike the average office gig, I work in many different rooms on different floors and at opposite ends of the building. This keeps me moving and with my higher than average daily step count… I’m basically being paid to work out!
4. You get to mingle with world-renowned scientists
Think about it for a second! Think about the caliber of research going on in the labs around the globe – and you are a part of this community! Take advantage of every opportunity to brush shoulders with the science elite – whether it’s with scientists you pass regularly in the corridor or the ‘mythical beings’ whose papers you’ve been reading who you actually bump into at a conference! Network until you are blue in the face – even if you are the shy retiring type like me! You never know what connections you will make and what they could bring to your future.
5. The highs definitely outweigh the lows
Okay, I’m not going to sugar coat it: the positive results are few and far between for most of us! You can sometimes go weeks, or even months, on end before you get a result you are proud of. What I really want to say is the hardest part of research is staying motivated! It is so easy to lose motivation when everything isn’t working! But don’t be too disheartened because you’re not alone! Everyone goes through this more than once in their PhD, but I assure you that all the bad times are forgotten when you get that missing piece of the puzzle. The key is to stay optimistic and always keep an eye on the bigger picture!
6. You meet awesome people
This time I’m not talking about the science elite – despite how epic that is! I’m talking about your grad school friends that are the ones that are going to help you across the finish line. I’m talking about your grad school friends who can empathize with you more than anyone else because they know exactly what you’re going through. I’m talking about your grad school friends who will be your friends for life because they will be there for you through all the lows, and celebrate with you through the highs. For this reason, I recommend that you man up and just get involved! All your extracurriculars will supplement the whole graduate experience and help you survive!
7. And finally, the free food
If you are desperate & cheap resourceful enough, free food is almost always within reach! Nothing is more satisfying that heading to a seminar that is offering lunch! You will be surprised by how much more you’re interested in when the food (and sometimes even wine!) is free! Also on your grad school shopping list, top of your list, should be baking recipes and supplies. Scientists LOVE cake! I get as many emails about cake as I do about anything else remotely science-y! So brush up on those baking skills! If you can rustle up a knockout chocolate cake as easily as you can knockout a western blot, you are going to be just fine!
So there you have it! A handful of reasons why grad school is actually awesome as heck! It is all too easy to get wrapped up in your own research bubble and become overwhelmed by negative results, but grad school is all about celebrating the little wins! Take it one day at a time, sit back and enjoy the ride!
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