As a previous PhD student in chemistry, I experienced what it takes to be finally called “doctor”. I obtained my PhD at the University of Bologna (Italy) working on battery materials, a topic in continuous expansion which is gaining a lot of attention as well as funding sources. Honestly, I was thrilled to start my PhD, considering my appetite for knowledge. I built over the years a good relationship with my supervisor, while the working environment was overall very satisfactory. I was certainly one of the lucky ones who cannot complain about working conditions.
By working on my PhD, I realized that it was not only about learning and researching on a subject. While the scientific community produces an exponentially increasing amount of literature, the pressure on each PhD student appears sometimes overwhelming. The main common feature among my peers is the preoccupation to publish as soon as possible (before another research group comes out with results similar to yours) and as much as possible to prove your outstanding competences as researcher. This produces stress, which in turn makes the unfortunate PhD student working for many hours each day, including weekends sometimes, without any certain assurance of increased productivity. The untold truth about getting a PhD does not concern the number of publications, but the necessity to overcome depression moments. The probability that your experiment does not work or that you don’t come out with decent results at the end of the month is high. At the same time, the chances to even conceive a paper appear rather low.
How do you keep on being healthy, considering that you are in a loop from which escaping appears almost impossible? Each of us has her/his own strategies. Mine is called Ginger. Ginger is a red beautiful road bike and my travel buddy across Europe. Ginger is my passion and my hobby and helped me in keeping another life outside the laboratory. She (yes, it is a she) made me experience something unconventional and to broaden my mindset. Thanks to her I found other travel buddies (this time real humans) with whom I kept riding and exploring. While enjoying life more, results at work started to shape into papers.
Most of us start a PhD without mastering the topic. Each PhD candidate needs therefore time to study and approach her/his subject, while keeping in mind that the PhD should be first of all educational. Publishing should be a consequence of the gained expertise rather than a rush into uninterpreted results, as frequently happens. According to my personal experience, papers started to pop out as soon as I found a balance between hard work and leisure time. I literally needed to relax and enjoy life more to be more productive and compete in the scientific community with my research. To counteract the continuous pressure of publishing, we probably just need to take it easy and start enjoying the PhD. Balance your life, papers will come at the right time.
Ginger in Bruges, Belgium. April 15, 2017. Second year of PhD.