You & your PhD

Turning 30 and the PhD

Edward Jackson

I have been studying for the whole of my twenties and now, as I turn thirty and the end of my studies draws close, I thought I would share and reflect upon my journey.

IMG_2131When I was younger I always wanted to be a vet. I grew up on a beef farm in East Anglia and knew this was the job for me; that was until my grandfather passed away. My grandfather was an incredible human being, clever, funny, generous, as fit as a fiddle – or so I thought – and a fountain of knowledge. He died very unexpectedly, of what I now recognise as an acute myocardial infarction, in front of me when I was 8 years old. From then on, I wanted to be a doctor – a dream which took almost 20 years (and still counting) to begin to come to fruition.

My first degree was a BSc in Zoology, as at the time I still had, and still have, a great interest in wildlife that I was not quite ready to give up on. I achieved what you might call a “good-time degree” or a “Desmond” as my father so eloquently put it. I was gutted! Turns out success doesn’t just fall in your lap after all. This was a huge kick up the “proverbial” and possibly the best thing that ever happened to me.

I was called to interview for an MSc in analytical Biosciences and Drug Design a year later and met the lovely Dr Ducki – a French/Polish chemist. She could see I was desperate for a chance, and she gave me one. She knew I needed a Masters to wipe my educational slate clean, which I did by achieving a Distinction and Winning an award.

This brings me nicely to my PhD, by far the toughest and most amazing three years of my life. I realise, with plenty of hindsight, that I actually had no idea of what a PhD would entail. As with many PhDs, I was given plenty of guidance in the first few weeks and there were lots of social events. I was then sent off, and expected to get on with it, with the support – fortunately – of my excellent supervisor. A PhD is a sea of emotion that you need to be able to navigate or you will lose yourself along the way, as I nearly did. You cannot help but experience anticipatory anxiety and excitement at the enormity of what you are doing. Then there are the pangs of jealousy/envy you feel when your friends get their first publication. You will experience sheer elation when your first paper gets accepted, followed quickly by desperation as you try your best to answer the reviewers comments sufficiently to get published. The hardest part of a PhD is neither the subject matter, nor writing the thesis; it is getting over the inevitable slump in the middle. I experienced this in the middle of my second year. I was sick of reading the same publications, bored of running experiments – many of which had proved unfruitful – and exhausted from working many weekends. I also felt very isolated, seeing many a vacant look when asked about my PhD. How do you move forward at this point? Change PhD? Quit? Or just continue feeling down? I stumbled upon my solution purely by chance. I had decided I needed a holiday so to earn some extra money I got a job working in a shop for a few hours on the weekend. Although relaxing, it was not the holiday that helped, but the job. I found, that meeting a new group of people, who were interested in me, and most definitely not my research, was the cure. As my social life away from my PhD improved, my research began to take off. I was finally the student being sent to conferences, research facilities abroad and soon collected enough data for a thesis.

Now, I am a third year post-graduate medical student at Warwick University. Medicine is a tough discipline to cover in 5 years, and even tougher to squeeze into 4. It is, however, as rewarding and life changing as I imagined! I am extremely grateful for being given the privilege to study it. Medicine is the complete opposite to studying for a PhD; it is extremely broad and very sociable. The intensity of study and toughness of exams binds friendships formed, in a way I had never experienced. Despite this, however, I do still have a part-time job which, as before, helps to keep me grounded. I work in the postgraduate hub for a few hours a week, which has been a welcome distraction from the stresses and strains of medicine. I often regale my colleagues – whether they like it or not – with stories laden with grandiose themes of the vicissitudes and exploits of a doctor in training.  It is tough having a part-time job whilst studying, but the benefits, both financially and mentally, make it worthwhile.

Images Creative Commons : 30 by Roubicek | 30 by Skley

8 thoughts on “Turning 30 and the PhD

  1. Medicine is beautiful. This I know maybe because Sherlock says so. When not working on tech subjects, its on skin matrix synthesis on recent researches on carcinogens, Congratulations and more power to your elbow Dr Edward

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