Welcome to the spotlight on PhD realities. “You can succeed even when it feels like everything is going against you”. Not too sure said every PhD student in the world...
Last week the SAHMRI Student Association held its first seminar on Employability and Career Progression Pathways, with great discussion from postdoctorate and clinical academic panel. Some advice I agree with, and some not so much. So, how to become the best PhD? This was their advice.
At the outset I think students should note that the arcane world of academic research is a competitive field, so the crux is to differentiate yourself and create a competitive edge. This can be done through the 3 P's of a PhD:
The key is to start early, sit down with your supervisor initially and let them know you are an ambitious person in research.
We all enter into a PhD because we have found a project in our subject area that we are passionate/excited about, which sparks our curiosity. Our research project itself will be investigating and contributing new knowledge in a niche area. Therefore do not be afraid to be the face and expert of your research area.
Make yourself unique from other candidates in your research area. This could be done by mastering a specific experimental technique that differentiates you from everyone else.
Apply for scholarships, project grants, travel grants, conference (seminar/poster) awards.
Most importantly give yourself a birds eye view for the 3 years of your PhD. Sometimes the program may feel like a long commitment but if you’ve planned out your main goals you will have a sense of direction. Answer the following questions:
What am I trying to do?
Where am I going to next?
As we know scientific track record is mainly based on having a good publication record (preferably weighted towards first authored). It is bread and butter in competing for employment and funding.
So if we want to improve our publication list we should be proactive about seeking opportunities for new papers, such as writing reviews, editorials and commentaries in journals.
Another tip was to collaborate with your peers/work group to help each other on your projects and boost publication output by sharing authorships.
I think this aspect of career development is most overlooked by PhD students. We are very focused on the project we are working on and building profile seems to not be of immediate importance.
However, interpersonal skills (networking and management) are as important as the work we are carrying out. The impressions you make while a student can be very important for future prospects. Like they say, its not only what you know, its who you know.
The smallest person in the room can make a big impression on the most important person in the room. Sell yourself, but don't sell yourself short not. Be your own greatest advocate.
4] Other advice
Reading: Allot time during breaks/weekends to catch up on reading literature in your field to increase your breadth of knowledge and generate new ideas for your project.
Mentor: Finding a life/academic mentor, another overlooked aspect of career development. A PhD can be psychologically tough, and having someone with experience to listen and provide guidance will really help through the challenges of the program.
Having a PhD will greatly enhance your career opportunities. As Jack Ma said, “No matter what one does, regardless of failure or success, the experience is a form of success in itself.” Best of luck with your project :)
You can take it as insight, or you can take it as Just BS.
[Post inspired by the discussion from the academic panel, thank you Dr. Hannah Wardill, Dr. Peter Psaltis, Prof James Ward]