How do I know I’m doing enough work?

You’ve started your PhD, reading papers, writing your literature review, reading papers, designing your first experiment, oh and did I mention reading more papers.

You’ve amassed a pile of journal articles, scientific papers and book chapters either piling high on your desk and the floor around you, or metaphorically piling around you, a.k.a. on your computer. So probably safe to say you’re doing enough reading.

How do you pluck out that all-too golden information and enter that into your all-too empty word document? It all seems so relevant.

Write a sentence. Any sentence.

Doesn’t have to be a good one. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It can be as broad as ‘plants are cool, we need plants’. Obviously you’re never going to submit a paper with that introduction, but it gets the writing juices flowing, it makes you think – why are plants cool, why do we need plants…etc. Whatever your story or argument, set it out in one simple sentence and go from there.

Lives are already complicated enough without the added of flouncy words and highly convoluted sentences.



Life in the PhD lane

Starting a PhD is one of the most daunting things I have ever done. When I first heard that I had got the offer, I had a mix of emotions, ranging from excitement to worry. I have just started, and I want to look at the ways in which we can manipulate the microbiology of the soil in order to improve plant responses to drought and nutrient stresses. It is something I am really interested in, and it has so much potential in this current agricultural climate.

After my first 4 weeks, there are a couple of things I learnt – an amalgamation of other people’s advice.

  1. Don’t stress about things you don’t even know yet. You won’t know a lot of things, and that’s perfectly fine. As long as your willing to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, and that you want to learn, then you are in a very good position to do well.
  2. Talk to your supervisor. They have a lot of answers to a lot of the questions you have. Plus, how else will they know how you are doing if you don’t communicate. They’re not here to molly-coddle you; they’re there to guide you to progress into a fully fledged scientist.
  3. Take lots of tea breaks. Vital. Especially at the start when all you seem to be doing is reading scientific papers and note taking. Having a chat with other students helps you to remember you’re not the only one doing this. It’s. Perfectly. Normal.

I have to constantly remind myself that my supervisors would not have chosen me to carry out this project if they didn’t see something in me. If they didn’t think I was capable of using my brain to come up with something exciting and innovative.

If, in the end, my PhD teaches me nothing but perseverance and responsibility, then it will still be worth 4 years of my life.

Start small, dream big. After all, we all have something worth to say and contribute to this world.