My second year started after failing my first year. I was a lot nervous and while trying to fix my report, I also had to move house. This came in a very bad period when my old supervisor left the country (thank God) and I also had to join another lab to carry on going with my research. I felt really alone and I was struggling a lot with depression. This is when I made the decision to see a counsellor to help me dealing with the stress and anxiety.
In this bad period, something unexpected happened. I was dealing with loads of crap and the last of my problems was to start a relationship. However, Seun came along and we decided that we were better off together than separated. I found myself dating a guy and share the house with him at the same time. It wasn’t easy but it sounds like we finally made it.
Since my old supervisor was very unhelpful, didn’t know much about my research and what was going on, I always believed that I was doing well until I failed my viva. Starting in the lab again was a struggle and I blamed myself for every single mistake. I started feeling the usual feelings that PhD students go through: lack of self-esteem due to wrong experiments, impostor syndrome, anxiety, feeling guilty for all the time spent outside the lab. I remember being at the gym a Saturday morning and feeling suddenly nervous because I was taking time off for myself.
This is also the year where I started sharing the experience of my PhD life on Instagram. I found my community of scientistswhoselfie and the outcome was totally unexpected. I was so alone during the first two years of my PhD and I felt no longer alone overnight. People say that life on social media isn’t real but what I found there was such a great support that I lacked to find in real life. I made loads of friends around the world, launched sci-comm campaigns and finding out that people genuinely like my stuff has been a lot empowering.
The most important bit is that I finally found the courage to deal with my depression, a problem I have been hiding forever. My dear friend Susanna Harris started a page called ph_d_epression which has been a changing point in my life. I found myself comfortable speaking about my vulnerability as I have seen that I wasn’t alone in this journey. I was also very negative about the use of medications but learning that people take them to feel better seriously helped in reducing the shame of taking antidepressants.
I also organised a science festival Pint of Science which was one of the best things I have done during my PhD. I educated people about the importance of sustainability and protecting the environment so that the future generations can enjoy the same things we do now. I secured important collaborations with the Female Scientist Association, The women in Tech Association, Asynt.ltd, Stories of Science, The Society of Chemical Industry and loads more to come. I gave voice to people who struggled to be heard, such as my friend who suffered from severe depression due to sexual harassment. And it’s kind of shocking that people see me as a role model now. I have been bullied at school and people tried to put me down my whole life. So certain things, although positive, are kind of hard to accept.
I finally understood that I am a lot more than this PhD, that all the things I do and my PhD empowered me and made me really feel unstoppable. I learned that success comes from hard work, that life is ups and downs, in academia more downs than ups and how to support other women which is something that I struggled to do my whole life. In all this, the support of Seun was immense and I wouldn’t have made it without him.
Also thanks to all the people that read my stuff, my blog recently made 20000 hits in one year. UNBELIEVABLE. I will keep this blog and my social media platforms an honest place where people can turn out to see that, in the age of fakeness, real people still exist.
My friend Susanna, recently wrote an article about her reflections on her first year of PhD and Nicola did her bit by sharing her reflection of a 3rd year PhD student working on cancer research. Please do take the time to read both.