1 year in…

Absolutely zero results. Absolutely zero results. These three words are often mutterings of a hysteric PhD student other symptoms including: PhD wrinkle onset, grey hair infiltration and insane caffeine levels in bloodstream. Their diagnosis: stress induced delirium. Their medication: a good ould glass of suck it up.

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SMBE 2013- Chicago, Illinois.

I think it’s quite usual for first year PhD students to become daunted by the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate level studies – I was no exception. The spoon feeding stops, the memorization of  facts ceases which allows one to explore unchartered scientific terrain. I found this fact exciting but undeniably frightening. For me, coming from a wet bench genetics undergrad to a computational dry bench PhD was difficult. The amount I had to learn was staggering – from evolutionary theory and graph theory to phylogenetics and programming langauges. More importantly I had to deal with feeling stupid EVERY day, something that an undergrad definitely doesn’t prepare you for. I no longer could find answers in text books or had powerpoint slides to refer back to. I think the fear of not being able  to complete such a challenge was the most frightening aspect of the journey for me.

Programming for evolutionary biologists - Leipzig, Germany.

Programming for evolutionary biologists – Leipzig, Germany.

I struggled with this for quite some time, but it’s these elements that make you a scientist – a good one at that. A year in and I have evolved into an independent learner, figuring out the aims of my project and how to go about achieving them. Little did I know then that the challenge becomes easier with programming skills and logistical thinking. I reached all my milestones this year using highly complex software packages and programs which I had written. The importance of asking questions even if it makes you feel stupid is also a trait in which every PhD student must acquire – leave your pride at the door! Everyone is stupid, insofar as nobody knows everything and everyone has to start somewhere. I have failed so many times, but each of these failures has thought me a lesson in becoming a better scientist. As a senior lab member has said on numerous occasions “If it was easy then everyone would be doing it” !

All the stress and pressure does not come without benefits. This year I have travelled to Barcelona, Denver, Harvard, Browne, Chicago and Leipzig. Here I improved my networking and programming skills but most importantly I met a lot of new people, had a lot of geeky conversations and had quite a few pints. All in all, year two…BRING IT ON!

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