I vividly recall how I spent the last few hours of December 31, 2019. It was like any other new year's eve - I was tasked with operating the DJ for the annual community party, we were at a family friend's restaurant and I was surrounded by some of the closest friends that I've grown up with all my life. In my mind, 2020 was going to be like any other year, with one minor exception, I was going to commit to pursuing a PhD.
At the time, it certainly didn't feel like a major decision, just the natural next step after completing my masters. My friends kept asking me whether this was truly something I wished to undertake and my continual response was: "Of course! I'm interested in research, and how much different can it really be from what I did in my Masters?"
Boy, was I wrong.
I have to admit - prior to committing, I read countless blog posts on what to expect for graduate school, what it meant to do original research, and what it takes to make it through a PhD. But desipite all the warnings, I genuinly believed that the journey would not be wildly different than what I had already endured. Yet, to keep it succinct, my first semester was painful. Enough so that I thought about dropping out multiple times and I really began questioning my life decisions. Dramatic, I know. However, going through the process taught me some very important lessons that I would like to share. None of this advice is groundbreaking nor innovative, but it tremendously helped me and I hope that it'll be able to help you some day.
Action without direction is equivalent to running around like a headless chicken. You don't necessarily need to have your entire life planned out, but you do need to identify what intrinsically drives you. If your actions don't align with your desire, you're going to end up living someone else's life, not yours.
It's a given that everyone around you is hustling but many people have very little to show for it. Unfortunately, the world rewards your actions, not your dreams. And so it's imperative that you turn your dreams into actionable steps that yield results. This isn't meant to diminish the lessons that you've learned through the process of chasing your dreams - that is very important. But you need to be able to apply those lessons, that is what people admire.
This might be specific to my experience but it is very important HOW you communicate with people in your lab, life and strangers on the internet. Words carry meaning and deliberately acknowledging positive influences in your life go a long way. Additionally, it doesn't matter how novel your idea may be if you can't effectively communicate it to others. In doing so, you not only have to convince why the problem that you're solving matters, but that you're the best person to solve it. This requires consistency. It requires showing up to every meeting prepared, on time and ready to participate, instead of waiting around for others to ask you about your thoughts.
It is very easy to blame your circumstances and make a habit of being unproductive by coming up with excuses for your work. On the contrary, there is no reason to work so hard that you burn out and put yourself in danger. No conference deadline is more important than your health, no paper is more critical than your family and no project is worth losing your key friendships over. It is vital to make an active effort to take breaks, recharge yourself but work to accomplish a little everyday.
I'm aware that none of this advice is new nor is it even particulary insightful. However, I hope that these words provide the spark that you may need to take action which aligns with your long term goals. These words certainly helped me face one of the craziest years of my life so far.
Cheers 2020, thanks for teaching me some important lessons that I'll carry forth in my personal and professional life.
Last Updated: 2021-01-09