02 Mar Ph.D. Diaries
2nd blog post
(blog post header photo source: www.pixabay.com)
Ph.D. studies can be exciting, inspiring, challenging, as well as difficult, and exhausting at the same time, even in the regular times, and especially so during the global pandemics.
Our young researchers talk about their experience…
Young Researcher – 2nd year of Ph.D., BioSense Institute
What is the hardest – to come up with an idea, to do experimental work, reading, writing, etc?
At the beginning of my academic journey back in 2014, I was primarily focused on my exams and how, one day, I will find a job of my future expertise when I finish the studies. But, step by step, I found out that maybe I can expand my scientific knowledge by doing research. Unfortunately, to study physics in Serbia does not give you much opportunities after studies. Many physics students would love to explore “quantum dots” of physics abroad, and, therefore, I was also thinking to do the same because somewhere in the world I could find exactly what I want in terms of my research future. But luckily, I was given an opportunity to do my research in Serbia as a BioSense researcher, which is, I think, one of the best steps that I took so far in my life.
Coming to the BioSense Institute I learned that the research is not something that you do one day, and the next day you have the results. During my studies, I went through a lot of transitions regarding what expertise I would want to add to my CV, and so the hardest thing to me at the beginning was to realize that research is a long and “non-linear” journey that you are sliding through. It is like a slalom in skiing, where you have to go left and right to each flag and pick up the new knowledge on each, but not thinking about the finish because you will lose focus and slip off the track. Also, I have luck that my PhD supervisor is from abroad, so, besides my research, I am also improving my English communication and writing skills, which is a very important parameter for a researcher, and very important to me because I had a lack of confidence when I had to communicate in English before.
I am a second-year PhD student and I think that research improves your reading, writing, cogitation and experiment-doing (if you do experiments) skills. To me, at this stage of research, the hardest thing is to construct a further step because I do not have so much experience and knowledge to build up a greater picture of my research. That is why it is very important to fully consider every idea from an experienced researcher, especially from your supervisor, to read many papers, to do many experiments, and to believe in yourself. In the end, I would reference the movie “Inception”, where the goal was to seed an idea into someone’s mind because of someone else’s motives. I would invert the plot of the movie and say that in the moment when you build up an idea in your mind, your research will become your expertise. Until then, hard work is the best key to that.
Young Researcher – 4th year of Ph.D., University of Novi Sad
How to deal with new challenges without feeling overwhelmed?
The scientific field I have chosen is the one I have always enjoyed, and I never considered the work itself a source of frustration. However, a PhD can often seem like a monumental task. Not becoming overwhelmed by the whole thing, or the obstacles you encounter along the way can at times prove difficult. One of the hardest things for me, especially in the beginning, were these kinds of situations where I get demotivated by internal criticism, or perhaps by overthinking the problem I am dealing with, so a large proportion of the stress ends up being self-inflicted, rather than imposed by the program. Another problem with overthinking is that you end up investing far more time in certain tasks than is needed. When you are short on time, relying on other team members for quick solutions might seem like a good idea.
There are several things I have picked up along the way or found out for myself, that have made my journey so far, a little bit easier.
Instead of thinking of my thesis as one giant problem to overcome, it was helpful to me to imagine it as a series of plateaus or checkpoints, from which something can be extracted and gained. This way, the individual accomplishments and finished projects seemed much more meaningful than mere chipping away at one giant task. As I gained more insight and experience, brainstorming about new ideas and coming up with solutions to any new problems became much less challenging, so the progress was easier to visualize than it was in the beginning. There is no doubt that getting support from your supervisor and colleagues is extremely important and often necessary. However, seeking out people who will simply provide you with a ready answer to the problem with which you are currently struggling can work in the short term but is harmful to your own development in the long run. To me, it seems much more beneficial to surround yourself with people who will question your assumptions and possible solutions, thus providing positive criticism and leading you to consider alternative approaches and ultimately provide you with the tools required to find the correct solution for yourself (which is far more satisfying). I am very lucky (and grateful) to have been surrounded by people of this sort from the very beginning and was able to greatly benefit from their guidance. In the end, I would like to mention physical activity (running in my case), which I have found to be very helpful. Apart from helping me unwind, this has often allowed me to return to any problem I was dealing with, with a fresh mind, or a new perspective.
We hope you enjoyed reading our 2nd blog post from the IPANEMA Ph.D. Diaries series.
Stay tuned, new interviews are expected soon!