So, I made it through to the end of my MSc. There was an 100% pass rate among the students this year – celebrations all round!
In a previous post I was trying to decide upon a supervisor for my PhD studies. The advice I received here and elsewhere mirror that offered to Anna Vilborg in her post on trying to decide where to do a post-doc – don’t do what I did!
I got on well with the supervisor of the third MSc projects from the outset, and, of the three projects I had to complete for the MSc, this was by far the one I enjoyed the most. The supervisor and I agreed that the MSc project can be considered a preliminary or preparatory study and that I can work on this topic for a PhD.
So after a fortnight’s break, I am back at my desk, writing my PhD proposal, preparing a paper on one part of my MSc project, and writing some code to use for the PhD proper.
Inevitable induction sessions took place early in the first week, including a welcome by the graduate schools. I have blogged before about my penchant for self-help guides. My collection of Imperial’s trio of in-house publications has been completed with my copy of Learning to Research . In common with the transition from taught to research study, Learning to Research has a less softly-softly approach than its predecessors, and includes a comprehensive description of the rights and responsibilities of both student and supervisor.
Whilst it does not make its way formally into the Code of Practice for Students and Supervisors, the phrase A PhD is not a 9-to-5 was reiterated during the welcome session, both verbally (video link) by the Director of the Graduate School for Life Sciences and Medicine and in a written summary of what PhD students and supervisors should expect.
Students are expected to
Work Hard – PhDs cannot be accomplished with only a 9-5 effort.
If I am honest, I am a little intimidated by this.
Professor Morley claims that
_hard work placates supervisors.
It makes us happy when you are here long hours and weekends_
There is one sense in which science never leaves me. I cannot be alone in taking papers home, to read in the evening, because they are not strictly related to my PhD topic, but they are interesting nonetheless. Often, often, the solution to a problem that I have spent half a day staring at hits me when I am walking across the park, or ploughing up and down the swimming pool, or doing the washing-up. If someone asks me what my PhD is in, I can quickly get excited about it and try to explain it, and what I am going to do next, and what it means.
In that sense, my studies are not 9-to-5, they are more like 24/7.
I appreciate that self-doubt is common among postgraduate students (and scientists at any stage of their careers), but the reinforcement of the above expectation has me thinking, do I have it in me to work hard enough? I like my work, but I have many other things I like to do too. Some are science-related, but some are not.
There are many valid work patterns, and to relentlessly evaluate how hard I am working against my perceptions of my peers’ efforts is unlikely to be accurate, but that doesn’t negate the nagging question.
I reassure myself that I have made it this far, with my own study habits and my own way of working, that I have adapted what I do as I go to meet the demands of the courses. My work-life balance over the next three years is not set in stone – I can change my schedule as I need to. Maybe such a flexible approach does not come naturally to a scientist, but I don’t think anyone is able to tell me that if I am in the office at this time and leave at this other time, that will be “sufficient”.
The flexibility of the schedule is both a perk and a burden of research. I hope that someone will let me know, though, if I am not getting anywhere fast enough.