My Ph.D. experience: worth it or not?

Dec ,20 2016

This short post is about “How I see the Ph.D. experience and what I think after finishing everything.” This is my personal view on a lot of things that maybe for many people are not a big thing or they don’t think they are matter, but they are important for me, change my life in this or other way and made me see things in a different light now. I would like to briefly discuss pros and cons of getting a Ph.D. in Experimental Medicine, exactly in Molecular Microbiology.

First of all, and maybe too obvious for many of people, is that you learn! You learn new skills and techniques required to carry your project, you learn time management, you learn how to present your data or the proper scientific writing. You learn a lot! But if you, like me have the luck to do it abroad, far away from the mother country, you learn the language, you learn the culture, food, behaviors, you learn to deal with your personal stuff, documents, and the house. You really quickly, if you haven't been on international placement need to become and adult in a new environment and that can be a hard lesson.

The big disadvantage of international Ph.D. is that you are starting alone, you need to do everything yourself. For less open or social people that can bring hard times of loneliness and depression. Many things become pretty frustrating if you don’t have anyone to ask even about simple things.

On the other hand, starting in a new place makes you open for new contacts, not only those professional that help in the future career but also the privet one. This time if is well used can build an impressive network of people that you know many friends, the life-long friendships or even relationships.

The Ph.D. time is not a cake with a whipped cream, how we use to say in Poland, where I’m from. It’s a lot of hard work, overtime, and failure. The Ph.D. includes still a lot of exams, talks, learning, dealing with different people. A lot of times experiments do not work, either by your mistake or just nature of the experiment, that makes you really stressed, prolongs everything, leads to not meeting deadlines, angry supervisors, tears, and overall tiredness. Sometimes you just want to throw all your lab books from the window or run away as far as possible. Many days are not eight hours but 14 hours because you need to present your data next week and none of the experiments went well recently. Frustration sometimes is your second name. Another issue is that sometimes you need to sacrifice your private life to finish things in the lab. “Science is not a job is a lifestyle!” and sometimes it’s truer than you can believe.

Those long hours and hard times, however, give you incredible experience and expertise in the field. You master the problem-solving on any level, on glimpse and you know that the buffer was too old or you forgot antibody. You know every single detail of your project and all the tricks that can make you later fly through the other similar issues. The time management or doing tings in parallel are not an issue anymore.

The worst in this is stress, stress and again stress. The high requirements and goals bring sleepless nights, panic and sometimes even depression. Dealing with it is another skill that you, unfortunately, need to learn very quickly or you will sink in your problems and thoughts. It is good to have something that keeps you away from the work, however, sometimes you don’t have even time for that.

I think the important thing is if this work brings you a satisfaction in the end of a day. Even if the days are long and work is growing in size of skyscrapers on Manhattan, but you get your results and get to bed with a big smile of achievement that is the most amazing feeling in the world.

Is carrying out your Ph.D. aboard worth it? I think everyone needs to answer that question alone because that is a long time commitment that can not be successful in the end. If you are strong enough to fight for it, to sacrifice many things and a big piece of your life. You never know if you find a dream job after or you will be sick and tired of science. Definitely, it opens many doors, but also makes bigger competition and dealing with more and more stress dictated by the scientific field. If I think it was worth it? I will see if few years after because some things are better after some time and after you get the results from it!