A researcher’s life can be a bit isolating. Before you know it, you’ve spent little time connecting with your supervisors, other professors in your department, academics you admire and, of course, those PhD students around you. It does not have to be so! Lucy Richardson tells us that you shouldn’t dismiss those face-to-face interactions…
They say relationships are king, but there was a time when I didn’t realise that this applied to academia just as much as it does to every other aspect of life.
I came into PhD life as a mature age student after many years working in the environmental sector. The work was rewarding and important, but I didn’t find my true passion until I hit my forties. Fancy it taking until you’re 40 years old before you realise what you want to be when you grow up?!
When you work in the environmental sector for a long time, you begin to realise that it isn’t really about the environment… it’s about the people. I became interested in Psychology—keen to understand why people do what they do—so, I completed a graduate diploma in psychological studies externally while working full-time.
Studying externally fit my life well. I was raising two kids on my own and working full-time, so being able to fit my study time around all that in the comfort of my own home suited me perfectly. What I never considered, however, was the impact that never meeting my teachers would have on my future decision to undertake PhD research.
By the time I finished my Psychology studies, I had decided on my PhD research topic and was researching supervisors and universities. Little did I realise that I needed academic references as well as my personal and professional referees! How could I ask any of my faceless teachers to offer me a reference when they’d never seen more than my name on a list?
Suffice it to say that I managed to solve this issue, but the experience gave me a grand lesson; one that I’ll remember for the rest of my career: relationships really are king. There’s no way of knowing what the future will hold, but the connections you make and the relationships you maintain will be just as important for your future career as they are for other aspects of life.
I’m a shy person, although I hide it well after all these years. I also suffer from the dreaded imposter syndrome just as much as the next PhD candidate. What I’ve learned, though, is that I can’t afford to do this alone. Intelligence will get you into PhD life, and intelligence can get you through your research, but intelligence can only take you so far. There comes a time when intelligence has to hand over its crown. They say PhD life is a solitary and isolating road, but it needs to be more.
So, go out and present at that conference. Get to know the other PhD candidates. Talk to people in the hallways and lunch rooms at the office. Connect with industry. Contact that researcher who’s work you think is so amazing. Whatever career path you choose to follow after PhD life, these connections will be important pieces in the puzzle that forms your success. Nurture them, and they’ll nurture you. Relationships are king.
How do you ensure you are connecting with those around you and not just your thesis? Who are the people who have supported you and made a difference throughout your PhD Life? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at email@example.com, or leave a comment below!
Lucy is happily installed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, researching climate change behaviour and communication campaigns in an effort to help increase the adoption of behaviours that will help reduce the impacts of climate change. Lucy’s research brings together her long interest in the environment and her new passion for Psychology. Having worked for many years in both consulting and not-for-profit organisations, Lucy is keen to follow an academic career after PhD life. She is thoroughly enjoying her current mix of teaching and research and hopes to continue this into the future. You may want to check out Lucy’s work through her LinkedIn account, and if you have any questions you may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Contributor’s own, taken by Lucy Richardson.