I have two clear memories of my first few days in Nottingham.
- The first one was my induction event where people from industries came along to see and talk to us. They made their point clear. PhD students are highly qualified in terms of understanding of science and lab skills. However, very often, THEY CANNOT THINK BEYOND THEIR FUMEHOOD. All they can see is the little chemistry they do in the lab and frequently think that the whole world is the 1×1 metre square of their desk.
- I attended a training course delivered by the Graduate School (one of those which most of the people think as a joke and totally useless) called “Position yourself in the career you want”. They also made their point clear. ONLY 3% OF PhD STUDENTS in all disciplines make their way to an ACADEMIC CAREER. All the rest of the people need to find alternative solutions.
At the start, I didn’t quite understand what this meant, but after two intense years of PhD, I did get their points. Personally speaking, I am doing a PhD in Chemistry and we are not as many to do this in UK, EU or elsewhere. Despite this little number of people, after graduation, the competition to get a job, a postdoc or a place in the industry will be tough! Then, the real question you have to ask yourself is: what makes you truly different from other people? What is that makes you UNIQUE? What makes your CV stand out among others? At the ned of the day, every PhD student in the world will be able to read an NMR spectrum, set up a chemical reaction, design synthesis, set up new methods with lab equipment and so on.
So, the real answer is that you will make yourself unique my gaining a set of additional skills, which are known as soft skills, that most of the students don’t have. Just to name a few: 1) CONFLICT MANAGMENT, how do you deal with tensions at work? Do you freak out and bitch/complain about people or you try to be assertive and resolve the conflict? 2) GOOD COMMUNICATION of science: you think you are the best at doing your research. But, did you ask other people what they think? Are you any good at delivering your message to experts or the general public? Do your peer understand you? 3) INTERPERSONAL SKILLS: Are you a positive person? Do people enjoy spending time with you? Do you make an afford to create a joyful environment around you? Or people are just nice because they have to and they are like what’s the point of having arguments? I prefer to shut up just for the sake of peace and quiet.
To conclude, I recently read an article on the Nature blog about a PhD student in science who used to model to keep up with her finance. She managed to double her income and ended up working as a model after her PhD. Another PhD students used to write for a local newspaper and for his blog while doing his postdoc. Finally, he ended up being a journalist rather than a scientist. What I am trying to say is to keep your mind open. Don’t think of EXTRA ACTIVITIES as a waste of time. Hobbies will help in taking a break from long and tiring days in the lab, coping better with the constant failure we experience in the lab (I am sure all PhD students in science know what I am talking about) and who knows? You might build your future career on these “DISTRACTIONS”.