The past few weeks, I have well and truly entered the Second Year Blues. I’ve reached a complex, frustrating problem that I need to over come to move on to the next part of my project. It’s been really dragging me down, making me question my abilities, my motivation and even what the point is (sorry to all who have received “I’m quitting…etc etc” calls, texts and rants).

When I felt consumed with worry that I don’t know if I want to do it anymore/might not finish it/what if I chose the wrong path and it’s all been a waste of time, the people close to me reminded me of the important things I’ve learned throughout the process. As cheesy as it sounds, the saying is right. It really isn’t all about the destination, it’s about the journey.

And so whether or not I reach the end in the way I hope, I can always look back on it and on how hard I worked and recognise the things that I learnt in the process. Here are just a few:

  1. Time-management and project management skills. I really believe that learning how to manage your own time in both work and life under such intense pressures is one of the most important and valuable skills you learn as a PhD student.
  2. Programming.  Although I can usually be seen cursing and swearing at code errors, I am really glad for the opportunity to learn some basic coding in a few different languages. As technology advances more this is a skill that’d becoming more and more desirable.
  3. Communication skills. Developing the ability to explain your research and field to a variety of audiences (from 5-12 year olds Outreach events to your supervisor in progress meetings) is great.
  4. Presentation skills. Again to different audiences and even at big scary conferences.
  5. Two/three/four heads are better than one. PhD’s are often thought of as sole-pursuits. But you quickly learn that working together with others and sharing your strengths to overcome problems is a much better experience.
  6. How to pick yourself up and try again. A try, try and try again mentality will never go wrong.
  7. Perspective. The ability to step back and gain some perspective on things once and a while.
  8. The importance of a work/life balance. It’s not the be all and end all. My thesis isn’t going to change the world. So it’s important to do other things for yourself as well.

This is just a small list of the things I think you develop over the course of a PhD that are outwith your research project itself. It’s good to remind ourselves of this every once in a while when things get on top of us and question our work.

It’s really not all about the thesis.



Anatomy and Medical Visualisation Graduate, completing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. A forever student with a passion for medical technology, human movement and public engagement in science.

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