What is a PhD?
A PhD (doctorate of philosophy) is a postgraduate doctoral degree, which is awarded to students who complete an original thesis offering a significant new contribution to the knowledge of their field. In the UK, a PhD project is typically 3-4 years full time and 5-7 years part-time. A PhD project is quite a commitment and it’s definitely not easy, but it’s also not as bad as people say, or at least it isn’t in my experience.
Why am I doing a PhD?
If you told me when I was younger that’d I’d be doing a PhD now I certainly wouldn’t have believed you! A 16-year-old me probably would have laughed and said something like “why would I want to stay in education that long” or “only really smart people do PhDs”. Which, while yes you do have to be academically able to embark on a PhD, I do believe that if you’re passionate and interested enough in your desired subject, anyone can do it if they put their mind to it (that’s just my opinion).
I’ll be honest, I’m pretty much interested in all things science with a leaning towards biology. I find humans and our cells pretty fascinating. During my time at school, I loved the sciences, I even took triple science for one of my GCSE chosen subjects. I never really knew what I wanted to do, I just loved science. I toyed with all sorts, marine biology, conservation, crime scene investigation and medical research.
Medical research stuck.
My grandad passed away when I was young from a major heart attack, he himself was only 57 at the time and was a pretty active person. This always stuck with me, particularly when I was learning more about biology and our cells in school. Why would our bodies fail when we seem healthy? Why do some people die from heart attacks and others don’t? I guess this fascination with our bodies and our cells lead me to take A-level biology, a degree in biochemistry and ultimately study for a PhD. Even when I got to university for my undergrad I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly, I initially wanted to work for a pharmaceutical company to create drugs that would be used to treat cardiovascular disease, but then I wasn’t sure about working in industry. I guess this is the trouble when you’re not sure but are super interested in biochemistry in general. Luckily, in my degree we were encouraged to take a placement year, this was my opportunity to find out what I wanted to do.
I applied to so many placements, all across the country in a variety of different fields. Out of all the applications (I had so many I lost count), I managed to get interviews for 3 of them and was accepted for drug discovery project placement at the University of Leeds in an academic research lab. The drug discovery project was related to thrombosis, the aim was to test compounds that could potentially treat thrombosis. This was my first real taste of medical and academic research, it was only during my placement year where I thought “yes I want to do a PhD” and “yes I can do a PhD”. I was really fortunate on my placement that I was able to get involved in other projects outside the main project, this gave me a real taste of academic research and I knew it was for me!
After my placement year, I came back to uni for my final year spurred on ready as ever and then BOOM, my Dad suffers a major heart attack. Uni was not the priority, my family was. Thankfully my Dad made a full recovery (over time) but it was a difficult time for everyone. I missed some of my January exams and had to take them with my summer finals, it’s safe to say it was pretty stressful but my friends and family really helped me through. This being so close to home really made me want to pursue a PhD in cardiovascular disease even more. They always say that don’t research something to close to home in case you break yourself in the process trying to find a cure, but for me having it be so personal spurs me on. It gives me a reason and a driving force to keep going. PhDs are HARD, you have to be motivated, passionate and committed to your subject if you don’t have that you’re not going to get very far. I also think having the shock of my Dads heart attack has really given me perspective and made me a better PhD candidate, I love what I do but it will never take over, which I think is a healthy attitude towards a PhD.
Today I am now a second-year BHF funded PhD student working on a project about platelets and cardiovascular disease. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come and sticking to my guns in order to pursue a PhD in a field so close to my heart (pun intended). It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to something. My advice if you’re applying for PhDs, show that you’re passionate about your field and don’t give up!!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know why you chose your PhD project, or if you’re applying for PhDs, what projects are you going for? What drives you and why do you want to do a PhD?
Thank you for reading.