Why you should do something outside your work while you are studying…

View of a landscape on a sunny day

…by Nunticha / from Thailand / studying PhD Infection and Immunity / 1st Year

Being a lab-based student means that most of your studying times will be spent in the laboratory using a lot of chemical reagents and high-tech machines for your research. Working in the laboratory alone has pushed me and many lab-based PhD students into having less contact with other people outside their field of work. This is because the only group of people that we most likely meet while doing experiments are the postdocs and researchers whom we have shared the same lab module with. If looking from the bright side, working with less human interaction could be a good choice for those who do not like socializing and talking to people, but it could be difficult for a highly sociable person who loves talking and interacting with different people. I am kind of in the middle between these two groups, so for me, I sometimes love working on my own without getting distracted by my co-workers, but there are also times when I need someone there in the lab to keep me company.

I have been told from many senior PhDs that the first year of the PhD journey is the most enjoyable part as you will have a lot more time (compared to other years) to do anything you want (regardless of your daily lab work 5 days a week). They suggested I should make a list of places that I would like to go during my time here in Europe (I am from Thailand by the way): “do whatever you want, meet new people and go travel!!!”. These are the things they have suggested me apart from study guidance. I did not take this seriously at first as I wanted to just focus on getting some good results for my annual review. I should say that before taking this PhD, I did a master in Animal Biosciences at Roslin Institute, and I had spent 3 months in this world famous laboratory and done proper lab work for the first time (I was in an educational not scientific field for my undergraduate degree). It was really difficult at first with all the new things that I had to learn. This is why for my PhD, I was very eager to learn everything as quickly as possible so that I could be independent and achieve all my goals faster.

But the more I push myself toward all of the workloads, the more stressed I feel. Although I had some good results for my PhD 10-week review, deep down I knew that I could not keep on pushing myself too hard like this for the rest of my PhD life. I started to think about something else outside my study and then I suddenly thought about what the senior PhDs said about the easy life in your first year PhD. “It should not be this hard” I said to myself. If it’s this hard, that means I did something wrong. To make this right, I started changing my plans by clearing out some of my work plans that were not a priority and rescheduled them with some recreational activities like drawing, cycling, going out with friends, doing some volunteering jobs, travelling etc. I have realized that apart from physical wellness, mental wellbeing is also important for my PhD journey. In fact, doing some other things outside your work is a must-do that you should also enjoy during your student life. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons for this, but I will tell you 5 obvious reasons from my experience:

  • It can release the stress from your study (believe me it does!)
  • It could open up new opportunities for your career (i.e. you could draw and sell the paintings to gain money)
  • It challenges you to be a better you (as you have to balance the time between your study and your life)
  • It can soothe your mental health and calm you down (i.e. some activities like drawing, painting, carving, yoga)
  • It brings new people to your life (you could even meet the love of your life through the trip you take to Paris or the volunteering work you join with some organizations, so best of luck guys 😊)

Studying is important but living your life and learning from your experience is the most important, so “do whatever you want, meet new people and go travel while you can!!!”

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