Doing a PhD is a great challenge that requires discipline, vision, organization, motivation and passion. Throughout the three, four, or more years of the program, you will focus on a single project, trying to improve it, whilst learning more about the topic, and learning how to explain and defend every single decision you make.
Focusing on just one topic for such a long time can sometimes be difficult and tiring. Every single day, you will be developing more skills, refining others, and gaining more experience in your topic, and in how to be a researcher. In my opinion, however, it is important to remember the reason why we are doing a PhD. Most of the time, it is because we are aiming to get a job where we can apply what we have learned, as well as contribute to society, working in the industry or otherwise.
Facing reality, being hired by an employer, whether it be in academia, the industry, or government, can also be a challenging experience. Regardless of whether you have done it before, it will always be a matter of preparation and a bit of stress. As part of the preparation, having a good CV that reflects your experience, skills and successes can be of utmost importance. The dilemma of this is that sometimes you can wonder how you will get experience whilst doing a PhD, when all your mind and energy is focused on meeting your deadlines and figuring out how to recruit participants, collect data, analyse data, etc. Fortunately, there is a solution for this! You can always discuss your interest in participating in other projects or doing other activities at the same time as your PhD with your supervisors.
In my personal experience, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with others on projects taking place in the research centre, where my supervisors are based (Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Researchand Policy, SCPHRP. Since the early months of my PhD, different projects were happening, and I was invited to collaborate on some of them. As a result, I have participated in many different projects during my four years at the university. Working on these projects has given me the opportunity to strengthen my research skills, get to know the working culture in the UK, know other researchers at the university, and work in the government and third sector organisations.
In addition to the research-related projects, many of us have also looked for the opportunity to work as tutors in the School. There is a lovely blog about this published in Research Bow, where you can know more about being a tutor, and some tips on how to have a good and fruitful experience.
Finally, another way to expand the opportunities beyond your PhD is to try to join student groups. Even though they might not always be related to research, some of them can enrich your life with other practical skills. For instance, I have looked for the opportunity to be part of the PGR Reps in 2019-2020, the social media and promotion team in Research Bow, and the Mexican Society. Belonging to these different groups has given me a great number of benefits, such as organizing events for other students, applying for funds, interacting with other teams within the university, learning how to use design programs, and making new friends!
To conclude, despite the practical benefits of doing other activities besides your PhD, I think looking for opportunities of this sort can enhance your whole experience as a PhD student. As a final note–but not less important–it is advisable to talk with your supervisors before doing any extra work or joining other groups. They will let you know if you need to just focus on your PhD, or if you can maybe dedicate a few hours every week to a different activity. Maybe there are better times to explore these opportunities, and it would be best to discuss this with your supervisors.