When I was applying for PhD’s, I was determined it’s what I wanted to do. I loved learning about how microbes and our immune system interact and was ready to delve into it more. I asked as many people as I could if they thought I should do a PhD/what it was like/how I could find one. Most people who were in the middle of their PhD would tell me don’t do it, you’ll regret it, it’s awful, go live a normal life. The number one suggestion? Don’t do it if you don’t want to stay in academia.
At this point, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that I couldn’t imagine my life without science in it. So I listened to the advice and thanked them for it but was convinced they were all jaded, had bad experiences and I loved my topic so much this wouldn’t happen to me. I was determined to have a good experience and went ahead with my PhD.
Fast forward to three years later, when my friends and family ask me how the PhD is going, I struggle to come up with a positive answer. I don’t want to repaint the same bleak picture I was told and would love to be able to energetically say it’s been the best time of my life so far and that my hard work is paying off.
The reality is, most of the time, I do feel beaten by my PhD. After months of things not working despite long hours in the lab, it’s hard to stay objective and not attach the failure to your self worth and feel like the only reason you’re not progressing is because you’re just not good enough. And even if people around you tell you it’s normal and you will get there eventually, it can be hard to detach yourself and easy to let it consume your life.
I also feel pressured to say everything is going well and to not express my frustration. Mainly because other people do the same and it’s easy to feel like everyone’s PhD is going better than yours. That all the senior members of your lab have made it through so it must be your fault if it’s not going to plan. That you should just give up now because surely it shouldn’t be this hard?
But then out of nowhere, something works or a piece of the puzzle comes together. It might not be life changing but it’s enough to re-ignite that spark that started this whole journey. I go to an inspiring seminar or read a great paper and remember the big picture. At the end of the day it still feels like such a privilege to be able to explore something I love and dedicate so much time to it. But it’s also ok to admit it’s not what I thought it would be like and that yes, most days are tough and it can be a real struggle but I’ll get there in the end.
So my advice to anyone thinking about doing a PhD? Do it because you’re passionate about the subject, it will carry you through the bad times. I can’t pretend it won’t be hard but the good days outweigh the bad. I don’t regret ignoring the naysayers and neither should you.