PhD Diary – November 2021

I’ve recently had my major review and have now progressed. The first part of a long journey is over, so now the real work begins! Whilst my examiners demonstrated satisfaction with the work presented, they expressed concern over my cautiousness in certain aspects. So, I thought this entry would be a good opportunity for me to reflect on this.

In all honesty, I was surprised to hear that I was not being ambitious enough with my projected timeline for work. Given the potential complexity of the proposed experiments – some of which had specialist equipment – I believed that my tentative aim was reasonable. Yet, now it’s clear that my approach to that was not reasonable. I was too focused on ensuring my work was perfect that I risked getting enough done to begin with. One of my examiners stated it best, I am a junior academic undertaking a project which intends to develop me as a professional so mistakes or suboptimal decisions are an expectation.  This is actually a rationale that I explain to my undergraduates. University is an environment where students are expected to express ideas or create work that is not flawless as it’s through those mistakes that effective learning can be constructed. It seems that I forgot that it isn’t exclusive to undergraduate study, and I was holding myself to expectations that I am not ready to meet yet.

This experience was both a humbling experience and a reassurance. It reminded me how little I know, but gave me the drive to plan out where I go from here. In general, I need to build on my confidence, as I still feel that my inexperience necessitates a passive approach – absorbing the information around me – to gain the knowledge needed to contribute to current discussions. Be that with researchers in my field, or amongst colleagues about the operations of the faculty. The embers of feeling out of place, or impostor syndrome you could call it, have been re-ignited as of late. But for the first time in a while, I see it more as a goal to reach than an obstacle to overcome.

Finally, one of the examiners pointed out that my post-doctoral considerations are good but it seems that I have forgotten that I still need to do the PhD. The comment was a somewhat sarcastic one, but the sentiment of it holds true. Not much thought has gone on the question of “What next?” in the immediate time frame and instead has held much more weight on the more long-term plan. Now that I have an idea of where I want to go as a career pathway, it is time to determine exactly how I get there.

Without a doubt, this major review has been the best opportunity for self-reflection so far and has helped me direct my focus towards new points of action. As the next stage of this process begins, there is this sense of reinvigoration and drive to put my best foot forward.

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