27 and a PhD

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What do you regret the most about your PhD

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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That’s a great search term. Thanks to whoever plugged it on the search engine from WordPress and got to my blog. Thinking about it, there are many things I regret about doing my PhD. I guess the most sensible way of listing them is by dividing the answer in 2 groups, personal reasons and professional or school related reasons:

Personal ones:

  1. I regret not breaking up with a BF I had when I started grad school. We were  tons of miles away, the magic and love fizzled. I’m not saying all people in a long distance relationship AND in grad school need to break up with their significant other. But in my case it should have been the most sensible thing to do and I could have invested more time studying, instead of shedding tears for a lost love.
  2. Not going on vacay more often. Nuff said. Breaks just help pump up my aspirations toward reaching a goal sooner. I did went to Europe and Canada, and I visited home many, many times, but I had friends who went to all sorts of awesome places, for vacation (and sometimes work). I wish I could have done more.
  3. Not saving enough  money while I could. I’ve written about making stupid money mistakes here. Needless to say, once you leave grad school you shouldn’t carry humongous amounts of debt … especially because unless you get a kick ass fellowship, or get a postdoc in industry, you won’t start earning tons of money right away … or ever!
  4. Not getting treatment sooner for PMDD … or switching doctors sooner so I could get the proper treatment (medically and personally speaking).
  5. I wish I had discovered borrowed books and public libraries sooner. See, where I grew up I was always afraid of using the public library, not because there were sketchy characters, but because again, I felt like an incompetent. I loved roaming around, unnoticed and checking pictures of the weirdest african or egyptian rituals …. but I was useless when it came to looking for info and finding books I needed. In my last year in grad school I discovered that the school’s main library could be an immense source of awesomeness, in the form of audiobooks which I could get out and listen to when I was in front of the PC for hours on end trying to process data. This became especially great towards the end where I read some pretty nice books by one of my fave authors, Mary Higgins Clark.

Professional ones:

  1. Not networking enough. This is one of the most crucial things to do in grad school … or any job or market post undergrad. The people you know and the relationships you form, might (hopefully in some good way) influence where you land your first real job. Networking is one of the beauties of grad school (or any school) and progressing in life (professionally speaking) might be extremely influenced by who you know, who’s around you, and who can put a good word in for you.
  2. Not putting my foot down when the boss said there wasn’t enough money to send me to a conference or workshop, even when a postdoc in my lab went to Asia for a conference. I was sent to ONE conference.  In almost 6 years … one stinky conference. I should have been more proactive towards meeting people in my discipline and showing off my scientific glitz.
  3. Not getting out sooner. I spent too much time in, because I thought that that’s what people do, and I was too scared to finish because the world seemed like such an open place after spending MUCH time behind close doors and fluorescent lights. I was also afraid of doing science elsewhere and letting people see my scientific weaknesses …. such as the type of calculations I never did and never even learned and how I couldn’t calculate the most stupid things in the lab.
  4. Not “defying” my labs “policy” on not teaching. I love teaching, I love talking to people, I love interacting and showing people how to do things, so I could have sneaked out a bit more often just so I could get that experience.
  5. Not learning to code more while I had the chance.
  6. Not knowing enough of one specific thing. I know that it sounds stupid, but I have friends who are GREAT at something, like coding, or repairing machines, or are biochem gurus … I’m none of those. I’m good uncovering old and “unknown” scientific papers … but not great. I’m good with Photoshop and other Adobe products, but not FANTASTIC. I sometimes forget where the simplest Word commands are … and EXCEL is a spawn of Satan in my honest opinion. I wish I could have acquired and/or perfected a technique or ability so I could feel more resourceful. I guess it’s not too late and I can always check a tutorial on YouTube or something.

So there you have it. These are some of the things I wish I had done more, less or not at all. But overall my experience in grad school was a memorable one. Now I’m helping a dear friend with her upcoming defense from Big Name U … and all these things come in handy, especially the professional ones so she can get out better equipped for her new life post grad school.

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3 Comments

  1. Labness says:

    Hallo! Lurker here.

    Thank you for these – I’m in the process of applying to grad school (2/4 applications sent out to Top Choice).

    Cheers!

  2. 28 and a PhD says:

    No problem Labness! Glad this post could be of use. That’s what we’re here for. Feel free to lurk as needed :-). Best wishes with the app. process.

  3. […] the why I didn’t enjoy doing my PhD. Well, damn, it was a little bit too long. When I started my PhD the average time to get the degree was ~5 1/2 years. For some it took more, […]

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