I started my PhD over a year ago, here are some ‘valuable’ life lessons I’ve picked up along the way.
- Being self-driven is hard. I have really struggled with having no-one hold me accountable if I don’t show up or do any work. I could just not come in for a week and probably no-one would notice. As an ‘adult’ though, obviously I am just shooting myself in the foot if I slack off. This took me a shameful amount of time to realize.
- I’m not the only one who feels unworthy of being here. There is a term for this: ‘the imposter syndrome’, apparently it’s quite a common phenomenon. Essentially I just keep thinking someone is going to knock on my office door and tell me this was all a joke and to pack my things. I went through a stage where I was afraid to leave my office, in case someone asked me what my project was or how it was going. I keep having to remind myself they are still paying me so I can’t have totally stuffed up yet.
- I am surrounded by the coolest people I have ever met. Earth scientists are a lovely mix of being super intelligent and also super friendly. They are witty and forward-thinking, but they have also managed not to slide so far on the spectrum as to be antisocial. Also, a lot of the competitiveness that I see in other fields has been replaced at RSES by a healthy attitude of self-deprecation.
- My sense of humour is too culturally specific. As a local Canberran, one of the wonderful things about working at RSES is that I get to interact with people from all over the globe on a daily basis. This means that unfortunately not everyone is going to get my hilarious Kath-and-Kim reference, and not everyone knows who Hans Moleman is. This is definitely a reflection of my sheltered life and middle-class upbringing. I have learned, however, that some subjects are universally hilarious- my favourites being poop and sex (just to clarify these are two separate subjects).
- Grocery shopping is an impossible task to master. There is a specific art to buying the perfect amount of food during weekly grocery shops such that you don’t have to nip back for anything later in the week, but so that none of it goes bad and needs to be thrown out. This is hard enough let alone trying to buy things that are both healthy and delicious. It requires you to plan every meal in advance but thinking of new recipes hurts my brain.
- Academics are people too, with the same insecurities. They are just as desperate to prove their worth, and are just as worried about what other people think of them.
- There needs to be an extra day in the week. There should be an extra day reserved for doing adulty things i.e. washing clothes, washing dishes, cleaning your room, cooking for the week, paying bills, keeping dentist appointments and car rego inspections etc. Saturday and Sunday seem to be increasingly filled with doing the things I should have done during the week but didn’t.
- PhD students are glorified slaves. Has anyone noticed that we work 40 hour weeks while earning below minimum wage?! Some of my friends that I went to school with own their own homes. I’ve been saving up to buy a new sports bra for four months.
- I really like doing science. I have just started getting into the clean lab to start some solution chemistry on my basalt samples. Until now most of my work has been sitting in front of a computer playing with data. I really like wearing the lab coat, glasses and little plastic gloves. I love pipetting things. I love working with cool and dangerous chemicals such as concentrated HF!
- Doing a PhD is an amazing privilege– one that I am trying desperately not to screw up. How many people get to do a job where they have to use their brains every day? Where they get to study the planet on which we live? Where people around them are making ground breaking discoveries that will add to society’s scientific knowledge?