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We academics are people too and sometimes it's easy to let one aspect of our lives dominate the others. I'm at the beginning of my PhD and what promises to be an exciting and challenging few years. Join me as I attempt to traverse the battlefield that lies between the 'work' and personal dimensions. Next stop: Worldwide Scientific and Academic Glory via the Students' Union.

No man is an island

Ok, so i'm 4 weeks deep now, here's what I've achieved:
  • LinkedIn profile created, and updated to the point where I got bored.. I have 4 connections;
  • Twitter profile linked to LinkedIn so all 8 followers don't miss out;
  • Outlook rules created so mail from certain (very important) people goes directly into certain (equally important) folders - can't have a congested inbox; what if the world explodes and i'm asked to fix it?!;
  • Gym joined, circuits done, added circuits to Hate List;
  • Unlimited cinema card bought;
  • Blog requested;
  • More than generous PhD wages received and
  • More than generous PhD wages spent... all of it.
Your eyes do not deceive you, there is a certain lack of a - let's call it 'Sciency' - flavour in the above list. Not the greatest start, you might think. Here's why:

PhDs are frightening. A quick glance over job titles held at any scientific/academic positions so far will show 'Pleb' as being your main source of income from the age of 17/18 onwards (placement, summer jobs, Masters project). We're told 'free-thinking' is encouraged and yet somehow the multi-thousand pound instrumentation we are left to free-think with leaves us craving direction and strict rules to follow.

Placement labs, summer labs and Masters project labs are places of work that we join while they're in the middle of doing stuff. "This is how we work this, this is how this is booked, this guy fixes this, she knows all about those and this book has all the answers they don't."

PhD labs (in my brief experience) are completely different. Here you will very likely learn the definition of 'Starting from Scratch'. We're going to use styrene. Let's order some styrene. Your project code isn't available on our ordering system and stores are only open from 3-5pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays if the stores ladies aren't on tea breaks so you can't order styrene.

Ok, well, once we get styrene, we'll need to weigh it out in a fume cupboard. Where's the balance in a fume cupboard? Come again for Big Fudge? Rrrriiiiiiiigggghhhht.... we need to move a balance from upstairs into the lab with the fume cupboards downstairs.

These are the kind of things I (we) take for granted. It's only now i'm realising just how new this all is to me, my post-doc and my supervisor which is terrifying and, yet, empowering. My supervisor is almost as clueless as I am on this and that is how free-thinking is born. Confidence is forced.. initially, at least.

In the next 7 days, I will be left to "play around" with a laser as my supervisor put it while she is away on business. And play around I shall.

For a first post, this is a bit of a rant and, to be honest, that's all you'll get from me. That's all you'll get from any blogger. The truth of the matter is there is no 'Student Life' as far as being a PhD student goes. There's nothing typical about it and we all go about it in completely different ways. I had hoped to post a link (which I will at the end) to a very interesting piece about what to consider when deciding whether or not to do a PhD. I had hoped to build my first post around what had been going through my mind when I decided to do mine. And I had hoped that it might stand as some for of guidance for those who are unsure about what they want to do when they grow up.


Even I don't know if it was the right choice! All I can offer is my sincere opinion that i'm certainly glad i'm where I am now even though I may not be in 3 years' time. Read the blog, read the article, ask questions. I'll update this once a month at least, with stories of what goes on in the lab and what happens when you mix a social life with science. Make of it what you will..


Posted by Barry Robertson on Sep 28, 2012 12:35 PM GMT

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