First year of my PhD vs Now

Having very recently started a new job outside of academia and completing my PhD has allowed me to take some time out and reflect on what has changed since the first year of my PhD to now.

Although a lot of things have changed my job, my title, what is expected from me on a day-to-day basis a lot of things have remained the same the especially when to compared to the first year of PhD.

Starting a PhD is like starting a new job.

I started my PhD directly after my masters during which I spent a substantial amount of time in the lab, even though I was familiar with a research lab and had some idea as to what I was doing those first day nerves where still there. This applies to most people starting a new job, I felt the same way starting this role as I did on the first day of my PhD, nervous, excited, not waiting let anybody down and to truly show them that they made the right decision in choosing me.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

During the first year of my PhD I often thought that asking for help was a bad thing, that the post-docs and other PhDs would judge me and think I wasn’t good enough, that I should already know this information. Imposter syndrome was well and truly at its peak during that first year.

What I have learnt though since then is that asking for asking for help isn’t a bad thing, it’s better to ask for help/advice if you are unsure rather risk a huge mistake which might not be salvageable further down the line. Asking for help isn’t a sign of in adequateness or inaptness it’s a sign of a self-assured individual who accepts they can’t possibly know everything. Being part of team where you feel comfortable enough to ask help, not feel judged or self-conscious will truly help you reach your goals and support you fully.

You never stop learning.

As cliché as this may sound it is true whether you continue on in academia or change careers there is always a new technique, protocol or way of doing things to be learned. In that regard starting a new job is very much like the 1st year of your PhD – a constant learning curve.  I also think that depending on the role you take how you interact with people always changes and may have to be learned, in academia the relationship you have with your colleagues and even your PI can be a very different relationship to the one you have with a CEO in a more corporate environment.

Getting results.

One of things most PhD candidates probably hear during their first year it that “no-one really gets results in their first year”, although this helped me and I knew I wasn’t the only one not getting results or the results you wanted, in the first year of your PhD this is very hard to take.  It’s like no matter how many hours you put in or different PubMed articles you read your efforts at contributing to expansion of knowledge on a topic are futile and a drop in the ocean – its hard to maintain motivation when you don’t get to witness the fruit of your labour. What has changed since then is that now I do get to experience the full impact of my work – every task I do has a purpose and once completed I can instantaneously see results either with a customer or on the website. A very satisfying experience which didn’t get during my PhD.

Financial trouble.

Not only during the 1st year but throughout my PhD I struggled financially, a lot of which was due to poor financial management on my behalf supplemented by the uncertainty as to when I would receive my stipend. Although doing a PhD is a labour of love – you do need money to live and maybe squeeze in some fun extracurricular activities to relieve the stress of the lab.

The cost of renting in Dublin made it impossible for me to move up and rent, working out much cheaper financially for me to drive – instead of having rent to pay each month I had card loan, which was still half the cost of renting in Dublin. Soon I discovered that I was living beyond my means and the uncertainty as to when I would receive my stipend often meant I had nothing in my account to pay my car loan at the beginning of the month. Luckily for me my parents could help me out and loan me some money to tide me over until I got paid and could pay them back.  Somewhere along the way I decided that getting a student credit card would be a good idea – it was not and soon I was in over my head with credit cards payments, car loans and paying back my parents.

Now having learnt those hard lessons and cut up the credit card I am a much better financial planner, aided by the fact that I can count on being paid on a certain date each month. I still commute to Dublin everyday but this time I own my car and budget each month accordingly.

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