By: Charvi Nanavati
A quick scan of today’s schedule: sample collection at an ungodly hour (5 am), lab group meeting, interview call with a potential employer, update on the nth version of a manuscript, abstract writing for an upcoming conference, meeting with research advisor, running the sample, résumé writing workshop, data analysis, friend’s baby shower, dinner with husband, and sample collection again. Wow! Countless different hats to wear in just one day: senior graduate student, presentable job interviewee, scientific writer, data analyst, friend, and wife! Sound familiar? If yes, then welcome to the unenviable yet admirable position of a fifth year Ph.D. candidate! In addition to these everyday demands, fifth year brings with it the time to make critical career and life decisions. Throughout this year, I made several mistakes, fell often, but learned along the way. The following three lessons are highlights of my experience:
The home stretch is the toughest. The pressure to finish on time is at its peak in the fifth year, but dedicating time for performing the last of experiments calmly, analyzing the data, adding an experiment if needed, proofreading the manuscripts, and formatting the thesis is crucial. Ten years down the line, two additional months of work will not matter, but a poorly drafted discussion or the lack of critical data will go down in your publication history! While writing the dissertation, it is not uncommon to be distraught and feel that your research did not contribute toward a novel therapy, method, or drug. But the smallest of findings have the potential of an impact in the grand scheme of things. Additionally, nobody can take away the objective and analytical training to become an independent scientist that you gain in five years. In fact you are now equipped with the ability to tackle any question.
Conferences and networking matter. Networking at conferences and focus groups within AAPS brought me in contact with people in the field who could help me, consequently making my job search less stressful. Engaging in discussion with mentors also gave me a heads-up on the contemplation of work-life balance while considering the next career move. Consider the fifth year as an opportunity to weigh the aspects that maintain this balance and a time to mold your path.
Pay attention to your life outside of thesis writing. In an attempt to juggle everything, the easiest thing to put on the backburner is your health. With six months of physical therapy for a stiff shoulder and a tennis elbow purely out of over-use and lack of breaks while pipetting and typing, I learned the hard way. On the brighter side, this year rewarded me an important life lesson: not to take health for granted. It also developed my aptitude to take administrative paperwork seriously, which is something that we all procrastinate in the first four years of Ph.D. Tasks such as requirements for graduate school, submission deadlines, passport expiry, visa status, and application for work authorization made my priority list.
To summarize, it has not been easy to encounter all the pipettes and papers simultaneously; nevertheless, the bigger the challenge, the greater the reward!