Tag Archives: PhD

Why am I doing this?

A short one to hopefully get back into action

Oops. I was determined to post every week, wasn’t I? But things happened, as they tend to do. And to be perfectly honest, my anxieties and seasonal affective disorder or something got the better of me this time. My thoughts were all a-jumble and just wouldn’t cooperate with being put down. Things are looking up, though, in more than one regard, so here I am.

During this time, I’ve been sort of rethinking doing this PhD thing. Maybe even entertaining a notion of moving back home. I mean, as much as I enjoy Sweden and this university, perhaps it’s not worth all the anxieties and stress – and I haven’t even started the actual PhD yet! Especially, since some place along the road I suddenly realised that an academic career might not be my ultimate dream any more. The more I learn about it, the more aspects of it reveal themselves that seem quite unappealing (or worse). Of course, it’s pretty much impossible to find a job which would be all rainbows and unicorns, but at some point the negative might outweigh the positive, and you start wondering why you dreamt about it in the first place.

But despite all this, I still want to do the PhD. I figure, there are other jobs/careers where you can do science-y things of different sorts and having a PhD comes in handy. Besides, I do love doing science and I want to help humanity’s progress, however small my contribution may be. So, I think, it’s reason enough to do it. I can figure the next step out later. And who knows, I might yet change my mind about sticking with academia, I mean, it is sort of nice here, after all.

But meanwhile, I also need to investigate what lies outside the ivory tower,

Noodle.

Bit of a Ramble

This post exists just because I’m determined to post every week.

I had a bit of a freak-out this week. Suddenly this whole PhD deal, which will involve doing my research on two different continents, seemed a crazy impossible idea. How am I ever going to do it?

But I’m going back to my little corner of nowhere right now for some collaborative work at my old lab and then Christmas. I’m thinking I’ll spend the short break writing up extensive pro-con/problem lists, which, I come to think of it, I should’ve probably done before I jumped at this opportunity. But then, I didn’t know half the cons at that point. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be backing out, but at least I’ll have a better conscious understanding of what I’m getting into it and discuss the potential problems with my supervisors.

Forgive the rambling little post, but at this point all I can think about is home,

Noodle.

A Passing Thought On Being Alone Abroad

When I started mentioning my plans for a PhD to people, the most prevalent response was that I should go for it, since I don’t have anything, or more accurately, a significant anyone, keeping me home. But that wasn’t entirely true. I have a few significant others. My best friends, my family (most of whom live in a different town, but they don’t feel far away). Not that it was anything I considered as a factor. I knew I wanted to get out of the middle of nowhere, no matter what.

However, now that I’ve been away from home for more than two months, I’m starting to think that there might be merit in not moving away alone. I mean, sure, there’s the trouble of two people looking for work and accommodation together, which is a pretty big trouble. But the trade-off is that you aren’t so alone. Not that I mind being alone, but alone in your home country is different from alone in a new country, especially then there’s no internet access at home (as is my case). Being a tad introverted I often find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know (well). I find myself wishing I had come with someone, or had a good friend around here (which right now I do, at least for a couple of weeks, yay).

Off to try and make some new friends,

Noodle.

P.S. How cool would it be if there was a spousal hire equivalent for friends?

An Update On Things Happening

I seem to recall a resolution I made not to abandon this again… and then things happened.

Namely, last semester of my Master’s studies. Fun times of:

Finishing up my research project – which included a 3-week trip to Sweden, which was nice, even though I spent pretty much all of that time at the lab.

Writing thesis – about half of which was done over the course of 3 weekends spent in a house in the countryside, with no indoor plumbing and being constantly attacked by mosquitoes, while two of my best friends brought me food – those were probably 6 most productive days of my entire life.

Being bugged by that one professor who thinks that the last few months of our degree studies is the perfect time to broaden our horizons by making pointless presentations and writing pointless papers, which would normally be totally my thing (because I love random science), had it been, you know, not the last semester of my Master’s studies.

And… sometime in that period a totally dream-come-true (or so it seemed at the time – more on that at a later date, probably) PhD gig opportunity landed on me and I just took it.

Then I spent the summer actually finishing up my research project – I was finally able to solve that last problem which had been eluding me for more than a year. It actually felt more fulfilling and exciting than getting my Master’s degree. I also studied some for an English test I had to take to prove that I know enough English to follow classes or whatever. And I took an actual vacation, most of which I spent watching movies and reading because it was too hot to go outside.

And here we are, or more accurately, here I am – back in Sweden, trying to make good use of this gap time, if you will, before I become an actual PhD student.

This has been an update post because I’m kind of rusty at this blogging thing, promising to get better, even if only for my own benefit,

Noodle.

Searching For a PhD Position, For Real

Wow, it’s been a while since I had so many things going on.

The most interesting things to happen obviously are the PhD-related ones. Earlier this week I went to talk to a PhD student who works at one of the labs I’m interested in. That was very enlightening. She told me a lot not only about the research she’s doing, but how it’s actually like to be doing it. For instance, spending 9 months doing nothing but trying to perfect a protocol, falling asleep sitting at your machinery, or spending most of your time reading papers just trying to keep up with all the new stuff coming out each day.

Yesterday I had what I suppose was an actual interview for a PhD position. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t really think of it that way, because I couldn’t have kept my resolution of not freaking out. As it was, I just got to about a medium-low level of nervousness only when it was about 20 minutes left until the meeting. However, while I felt reasonably good about my answers to the questions, naturally, after I left, things I could’ve put better flooded my mind. So this is a note to self for next time, even though next meeting might be so different that it will be of no use at all. Still, it’s all I can do to prepare, unless you have other suggestions, please?

  • Think about my current project beforehand, so I can explain not only what I do, but why it’s useful/interesting/exciting – I know all these things, obviously, but in stressful situations they often want to escape my mind.
  • Refresh my memory on the relevant classes I’ve taken. I actually don’t know if that’s what Professors taking on PhD students look for, but I guess, for instance, they wouldn’t want a student who doesn’t know how an action potential is generated doing a PhD in neuroscience, investigating turtle nervous system.
  • Also, I’m not sure, but I feel like it’d be good to relate my current research somehow to the project I would be doing. For instance, if there is a suggestion to make/create some sort of set-up or system to quicken up things in an experiment, I like it because I like making things, which I discovered doing my current project which is basically making chip-like thingies. I know that because I can compare that to my previous project which was testing commercially available stuff and that wasn’t so fun (even though, admittedly, that project had a number of other issues as well).
  • Explain clearly why you like one project better than another. You know, giving actual reasons. Often, the only thing that keeps running through my head as I try to explain is something like ‘Oh, this will make so many pretty pictures!’ and I can’t well say that, can I? Maybe it’s better to repeat the reasons the Professor states on why he’s interested in that particular project – I mean, I don’t like to appear as though I’m just parroting someone, but if their reasons are my reasons as well, what can I do, right?

Still unable to fully comprehend that this PhD position search is actually happening – someone pinch me, or, on second thought, don’t – if I believe that I can awaken at any moment, I won’t be so scared,

Noodle.

Shiny Brains (and Other Things I Wouldn’t Mind Working On For My PhD)

So, the last few days I’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out and narrow down what sort of topics interest me. I don’t know if any of my thoughts will actually pan out into actual research, but I figure at least I have something to say when I talk to someone about my PhD thoughts and stuff – “um”, “I don’t know” and “anything” doesn’t make me sound like I actually want this, does it?

My process is pretty simple – I just pick an institution (a university) and go through their lists of research areas and topics. And so far my main thoughts are:

Interestingly (for me), I find that I don’t particularly feel like getting into the sort of thing that I’ve been doing so far – microfabrication, surface chemistry, biochip fabrication, that sort of thing, at leats not as the main focus of my work.

Neurobiology / developmental biology is extremely interesting. However, I’m a bit worried about the amount of genetics involved, because after photosynthesis, that’s the biology topic I find most difficult. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, challenges make things more exciting; genetics and epigenetics fascinate me. Plus, I would get to work with fruit flies whose brain light up in different colours.

Cell biology: stem cells, cancer, all that stuff. I have a bit of experience there now and I’ve taken quite a few university courses in that general subject, so this one feels most comfortable in a way, but there’s also stuff going on there that makes things interesting – genetics / gene expression, proteomics, and that’s just glancing through a fairly random sample during a couple of days.

Just realising that I haven’t stumbled upon any laser-tech-involving topic yet and wondering whether I even want to,

Noodle.

WTF Is My Area/Field/Forest of Interest?

It’s been rather slow these past few days, so I’ve been thinking a lot. Mostly about the prospect of starting my PhD studies. I’m working towards a Master’s degree right now; I’m graduating next summer. It seems quite a long time, but it’s not too early to start thinking about it, right?

There are, obviously, a load of factors to consider, and quite a few of those will probably ultimately boil down to be determined by “whichever place accepts me”, but I decided that I should at least determine what sort of topic / area / field / whatever I’m most passionate about and would like to devote 3 or 4 years of my life for.

Because, the thing is, I had never made an entirely conscious decision to choosing a research project. Let me explain. I first started looking for research opportunities when I was a freshman at university because I was bored out of my mind and because doing research was what I wanted to do, but being freshman I didn’t really know what I could do and how to find a lab and stuff. So, I simply went to my study programme’s supervisor and was, like: “Um, I want to do research, can you help me?” He asked me what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know, so we determined that using a simple process of elimination, and I ended up deciding that I’d like to work with small things (like cell cultures and stuff), and he helped me set up a few meetings. After a couple of misses and some more help from other people, I ended up at a cancer research lab which was fascinated with Nanoscience applications in cancer detection and treatment. I worked there for a couple of years and a series of baffling and unreproducible results (but I had an excellent supervisor and learnt loads). Then I found out about a summer science internship program which came with a stipend. I applied for a number of bio/chem/phys field internships that sounded interesting (a lot of them sounded interesting). Funnily enough, the only internship I ended up accepted for was one I almost didn’t apply for because the description sounded rather intimidating. And here I am, two years later, continuing and expanding on the project for my Master’s thesis, making stuff with laser light. It would seem that this slightly random process has been rather lucky for me. But I don’t know if I want to trust that same process with my PhD; I think that I should have at least some sort of sense of direction.

Thus, I come to my problem – I find the whole frigging world fascinating. Nice problem to have, when you come to think of it, isn’t it? Well, at this point I probably won’t head into Geology or Astrophysics. But the part of Nature that replicates is still rather wide open. Though I can narrow that a bit further because I don’t fancy field work much, I prefer the controlled environment of the lab bench or even laminar-flow hood for cell cultures (which, after 6 weeks of internship I hardly ever find annoying anymore). But where to go from there? Do I try to decide what problem I find most pressing in the world? That would be climate change, I guess, but that’s largely a political problem too and I just get frustrated by that sort of thing very easily. I don’t know if I’d like it to be my job. And at this point it occurs to me that perhaps the advice to not do a PhD until you’ve figured out what you’re most passionate about is not so bad (even though I actually decided that I didn’t want to wait, though I reserved the right to change my mind). At the very least, it gives you time to explore (maybe I’d find that environmental science or solar panel development is actually something I’d like to do). But what if several years from now I still won’t have found THE area? Because I know one thing right now – I know that I love doing research, I love learning, I love exploring how Nature works, be it in the form of a bundle of cells growing in a flask, or tiny balls of atoms glowing in the dark. And, ultimately, I want to share it with other students, and I pretty much need a PhD for that (or at least be in the process of getting one), so why wait? Perhaps THE area isn’t so important because I’m fascinated by so many things? I also must consider the fact that if I narrow in too much*, I won’t have much choice and the chances of not finding a position increase. And it’s not like I’ll be stuck with whatever I do my PhD in for the rest of my life, right? Perhaps I should just trust that the slightly random process that led me here, will continue bringing me to cool places? Are there any options I haven’t considered?

Lost in thought,

Noodle.

P.S. Yes, I realise that I started the post with the decision that I should determine an area of interest, but ended up thinking that it’s not so important after all. That’s how my thought process works sometimes – I’ve just been turning this around in my head for a while now and wanted to get it out there (and hopefully get some feedback), so I can move on.

*And I don’t want to narrow in too much at all – I chose to major in Biophysics (partly) because it covered the widest range of subjects in the first place.