In November last year I got accepted into a PhD program in Bioinformatics at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University. Becoming the next Sonja Kovalevsky* was my long aspiring goal ever since…
Ok, I don’t actually remember when the idea to become a researcher got into my head. Perhaps when I was sitting at my first math lecture at the Bauman University or when I learned about Rosetta (a computer program that is predicting 3D structures of proteins using machine learning algorithms) or when I realized that I need a greater challenge in life than just writing PHP code 9-5.
For some reason I thought less about my ability to actually do science or the exact way I will accomplish a great life of daily contributing to the common knowledge, but someone told me that a PhD degree is what you need first…
So long story short, here I am, finishing my first year of a PhD program.
Times I changed my main supervisor 1
Times I considered quitting 100?
Times I thought it’s the most awesome job ever 100?
Times I rejected a job in the industry with a much higher salary 5
Papers published 1
Papers in review 1
Credits earned 18.8 (~4 months of studying full time)
Programming languages learned 1 (R)
Programming languages improved 1 (Python)
Papers I read about my research topic(s): ~100-200
Lessons learned or “I wish a year ago I knew that…”
- Most bioinformaticians can’t program and don’t even now that
- No one cares about well written code in academia
- Software is not the center of my life anymore. Results are.
- I will be working alone 99% of the time
- I’ll feel stupid and useless 99% of the time
- Research project is 60% trying to figure out what to do and how, 10% actually doing it, 30% trying to interpret your results
- Academia is really reluctant to change, even in progressive Sweden
- Many PhD students are very unhappy human beings (been one of them for a while)
- After graduation ~80% of PhDs don’t find their experience related to the jobs outside academia
- The most important choice you make isn’t even your research topic, it’s the supervisor
- Ok, picking your research topic is important as well. Make sure you believe in the direction you are going and enjoy working with it.
- It’s important to learn to let go: let go of the useless results you produce, of the code you’ve written for 3 months to obtain them and of countless meaningless things you need to do just to get through the PhD studies.
- It’s really important to stay healthy: exercise and eat well. Stressed and depressed brain(at least mine) is not productive at all.
- Effective time management is the key: prioritize and do one thing at a time.
- Learn to write well, starting now.
The above being said, it has been one of the most interesting and challenging experiences of my life and when I actually manage to keep the big picture in mind, I feel like I’m on the right track. Whatever the next step might be.
* did you know that Sonja, or in Russian actually, – Sofia Kovalevskaya
became a professor at SU, because in Russia she wasn’t allowed to work as a lecturer, being a woman and all.