Wednesday, 17 July 2013

End of the first PhD year - should I switch careers to Lion Taming?

I’m picking another career. Surely it’s not too late to change? I’ll just do something low key and not stressful, like lion taming or mountain climbing. SURELY anything must be better than this???!!

These thoughts were running through my head like a roller coaster train last week. AGAIN. If you've studied for a PhD and are not hugely organised AND overly smart AND very lucky and therefore very successful, they’ll probably be fairly familiar to you. Last week saw two VERY long days in the lab, gathering data that turned out to not be very useful. Gathering data for me involves some pretty intricate micro surgery that it has taken me a rather long time to get my head around. I remember the first time I attempted to cannulate. The post-doc training me was kind, helpful and gave a clear demonstration of how to slide the tube into the vessel. It took all of 2 minutes for him. When, two hours later, with shaking hands and a sweaty brow, I likened the chance of me getting the cannula in, to Narnia really existing out the back of the lab cupboard, he gently took the cannula and just finished the job himself. I’m never going to get this, I thought miserably. Five months on from that, I face different challenges. Today, I thought about throttling my computer when my code failed to produce the desired result, yet again, despite no errors or warnings appearing on the screen. To be perfectly honest, there are days when I wonder if I’ll ever discover anything of any use to anyone during the course of my PhD.

I know I'm not alone. A quick Google search reveals that there's actually a site entitled 'I did a PhD and did NOT go mad', a Facebook group called 'PhD stress' where the header says "How's my research going? F*** you, that's how', numerous websites offering ways to manage PhD stress and of course, chats to my lovely, and importantly, honest, fellow PhD sufferers. It seems to be fairly par for the course to be feeling this way. I can also, although I prefer not to, recall several friends with PhDs (who made their minds up career wise rather sooner than I did) who advised me not to do a PhD, due to the severe and debilitating stress that came with one. 

But I read up on other jobs to see if perhaps the rational idea of switching career yet again at almost thirty could be the right one and I just can’t seem to get excited about any of them. None of them offer the opportunity to roll five career paths into one. To spend my days, teaching, writing, learning new incredible skills, to attempt to pick apart the brain, the most fascinating organ I have ever come across. To program, to present and to discuss ideas with some clever and interesting colleagues. Whilst I remember the first time I ever tried and failed to cannulate with abject misery, I also remember the first time I succeeded as well. The rush of elation that comes when your body achieves something you thought impossible is outstanding. I remember the feeling of pride I felt when I first saw my name on an academic poster and when I gave my first talk to a group of my peers at a conference. And funnily enough, despite the fact that I have no guarantees on where my research is headed, I’m gaining so much just from the journey that most of the time I feel like this is the best job in the world.

PS If I'm going to believe everything a Google search tells me, I have to concede that actually, a PhD may not be the best job in the world, and in fact, caretaker of the island below, is.


  1. Where are you girls? I'm guessing the PhD workload is catching up with you guys?

    1. Hello! We've been doing lots of public engagement in our local area over the last few weeks and we're planning a fun charity evening! AND there's the PhD workload! But we're writing a blog at the moment about the school talks we did so that should be coming soon.

    2. Yay! That sounds great! :)