Looking Ahead to Second Year

Hasn’t the past year flown by?! At Blogger HQ, we hope all PGRs have had a fun and successful research year at UofG. For everyone that joined us in Glasgow for the first year, we hope you now confidently find your way around the windy wee roads of the West End and have established yourself with new friends, colleagues, and societies. Research wise, you have all conquered many books, papers, literature reviews, group meetings, conferences, poster presentations, talks, and publications in the last year! We tend to forget, but considering that many of these things were probably new to you, this is a huge accomplishment. And all that was done alongside your actual life, too! Looking ahead, the blogger team compiled some tips and tricks to help you transition into second year.

 

Lookingaheaddirections by Beat Tschanz via Flickr
(CC by 2.0, this image was altered by flipping horizontally)

 

Sacha is just finishing her first year, so looking ahead to the second year of her PhD is exactly what she needs to do right now! “My first year flew by, I can’t believe it’s been a year since I arrived in Glasgow from Amsterdam and started this new adventure. What I will remember most about my first year is meeting so many people from all over the world. This social aspect was very unexpected and helped me get through the feelings of isolation and loneliness that sometimes come with doing a PhD project on your own.”

How does she feel about starting second year herself? “It’s scary, because I feel like I need to know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going with my project, when the truth is I don’t. But thanks to my supervisors, who told me that most of a PhD is trial and error, I know that there is still space for trying out what works and doesn’t work. I’m ready for my research to really start!”

 

For James, second year feels like a lifetime ago: “Before starting my PhD, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again: in first year you make mistakes and find your feet; in second year you work like a beast and collect your data; in third year you analyse your data and write up. But don’t be disappointed if that’s not how it works for you; I entered my second year the same way I left it—feeling useless. Lab work failed, experiments failed, I spent ages waiting on data… it was a year of optimisation and errors that felt miserable, but ultimately made my project more robust. On the up side, second year was also when I made a life altering decision: academia is not for me! As I got more and more involved in blogging, podcasting, politics, and much more, I realised that a career in science does not necessarily mean a life of research. So my advice is simple: embrace your mistakes, don’t compare your progress to other students, and explore the opportunities around you. It is going to be a hard, busy year, but chances are that it will help you discover what kind of scientist you are.”

Does he have any final tips to survive second year? “Oh, this was also the year I got a cat. Totally recommend!”

 

James_CatNothing beats a fluffy study buddy!
Photo of Nigel by James

 

Though Jade is in the very last steps of finishing her PhD, transitioning into second year was an important moment for her. “I felt that I was more confident about what I wanted to achieve with my project. I could look back on my first year and feel a sense of achievement that I had completed most of my archival research and located all the materials I needed to carry out my analysis.”

She advises to take time to celebrate your successes: “Appreciate your achievements! Some aspects of your research still might not be clear to you yet, but you will have done a lot of the groundwork by now and take heart from that. You will also have taken part in a lot of training and development, which will have given you the skills you need to move forward. All of those compulsory training workshops that might have felt like a waste of your time at the beginning, when you were itching to get started, will have given you the skills and experience you need to strive through the long slog in the middle of your research!”

 

My advice? There is no need to panic now that you’re “leveling up”. One one hand, you now know what the academic life is like and can hopefully start to turn that research into some results. But this doesn’t mean that there is no longer any room for trying new things, making mistakes, and adjusting your projects and approaches! In fact, I ditched the entire project I was working on and started a totally different line of research in second year. It was one of the most valuable lessons I learned: how to decide when it’s time to pull the trigger on a project you care about. I’d also encourage you to allow yourself enough time to enjoy your PhD experience, too. Try not to focus only on the deadlines, word counts, expectations, data, and results that you are supposed to be churning out. Are you learning? Enjoying being part of the research community? Bringing a positive attitude to your group? Reserving enough time for volunteering and being there for other people? Doing everything you committed to, to the best of your ability? Then chill, you’re doing it right!

 

Best of luck to all of you in the next year! Tweet us your own golden tips @UofG_PGRBlog.

Post Author: Jiska van der Reest

Jiska is in her 3rd year at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, researching Cancer Cell Metabolism.

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