Welcome to the PhD Dojo!

This week, I’m bringing you part three of the PhD Dojo series on tools and strategies to make the best out of your PhD experience. Today – Assembling the PhD Expedition Team, or how to ensure your PhD won’t be a solitary endeavor and that you will have help and resources when you need them.

Below, you’ll find the full – edited to be read – transcript of the live taping of this episode.



[00:00:00] Welcome to this new episode of the PhD Dojo by Papa PhD. Today’s episode is called “Assemble the Expedition Team”. It’s part two of the series about advice for first year or early PhD students. Last episode, I talked about what you should prepare to start this endeavor, to start this adventure.

[00:00:27] And this week is going to be the follow-up, let’s say. Because your PhD, yes, it’s going to be your personal contribution to your area of research and to your domain, but it’s not supposed to be a solitary endeavor. Ideally, besides finding a lab, finding a supervisor, you should try also to find the following people to be part of what I consider to be the team or almost the village that makes a healthy PhD experience.

[00:01:06] And the first other element or team mate let’s say would be an external mentor or a committee, someone or a group of people who can bring a fresh outlook on your research and on your progression. without the pressure of being your supervisor – the supervisor PhD student has a lot of pressure on it, the relationship, and this is why my advice is to, if you can, if you’re able, if there’s someone around you that could fill that, that position to find someone who can in an unbiased way, in that sense, be a mentor for you, be someone who you can turn to with all your questions, all your difficulties that are not specifically to do with the details of your research, but to do with your experience as a graduate student at large, with your your life plan, for example, with how your PhD is fitting with your values and with how you project yourself professionally into the future. So, mentorship, or at least, you know, having, having an impartial, let’s say committee that regularly can go to.

[00:02:31] The second element that I think can be really, really a plus for you during your PhD are what I call research mentors. These would be post-docs, senior researchers, people who are finishing their PhD and who know the ropes and who you can resort to in your day to day to help you just move your project along.

[00:02:58] When you start, there’s a lot of unknown, there’s a lot of of doubt, there’s a lot of searching, and if you have people around you in your team, in your lab or in labs around you, that can help you not be let’s say digging to find something that they have already found, well, establishing a relationship with these people and having them be part of your team, it’s also going to help you a lot. Because, you know, PIs, very often, they’re super busy. They, they can’t answer your every question and they can’t be available all the time. But people around you, people who are at a different stage of the graduate studies journey, they can help you, they, I’m thinking of the life sciences, which is where I was, but they use the different equipment, they do the different techniques, they have tricks, you know, they have advice they can give you. So don’t, don’t forget that they can be a resource for you. And also this is a give and take – I’m always saying this thinking of you as part of a community where there’s, there’s give and take, but as someone who’s beginning, well, you need more help. This is why I’m I’m I’m suggesting this. So – research mentors.

[00:04:27] The third element or teammate, let’s say, I would say are peers, peers with whom you can discuss your research, share your questions, work on on student community projects. So, people who are going through the same experiences that you’re going, they’re more or less at the same stage, they have the same needs and, and it’s really helpful to be part of at least a small community of people who are at the same stage, because you can – again – share the things that work, things you’ve discovered, tools that you found that work, you can can collaborate to write, you can actually practice presentations, et cetera, et cetera. So, very important: your peers are doing their graduate work too, but there needs to be some time where you and your peers are kind of a, a community, a family, you know, or a cohort that collaborates. And there’s also a social aspect to it, which I think is really important again, because like I said in the beginning, your PhD should not be a solitary experience.

[00:05:47] And last but not least, once you start your PhD. One thing that I think is key and very, very important is to identify the services that the university offers. So, I’m considering the university and its services that it offers students and graduate students as the last teammate that can help you in many different aspects. The first one that comes to mind is mental health services. During the PhD, it’s normal to go through anxiety, people go through depression, there can be a lot of events, a lot of things that happen that make it difficult to just to go through a week, a difficult week, a difficult day. So from the services that uni offers you, mental health services, identify them, know where they are, so that if, and when you need these services, you’ll know where they are, you might even know the people and you won’t fall into the error of just saying, oh, this is going to pass, I’m going to get over it. Some things you can get over them yourself, but people are trained, these services exist for a reason, and it’s really, really a missed opportunity that while you’re in your university, that you don’t make use and that you don’t take advantage of them, especially if you need them.

[00:07:25] And this goes for all other services: sports facilities, career and placement services,. All these things, once you arrive at your lab at your new place where you’re starting your PhD, ask around. Ask what people are doing, what services they’re using and try to find out whether there’s a directory specifically for graduate students.

[00:07:47] So this is it. This was a short PhD dojo episode. I just really wanted to stress quickly that the PhD is not supposed to be an experience where you’re alone, where you feel a little bit lost, and especially, it’s not supposed to be an experience where you don’t ask for help.

[00:08:09] Of course you need to ask for help. You need to learn, people around you can teach at different levels and teach, help, collaborate, cooperate. So this has a lot to do with putting yourself out there with communicating, but also with knowing that you deserve to have a PhD experience that is fulfilling and of course challenging at times, but where it’s kind of a, in a way, a team effort.

[00:08:41] And that’s why I called the episode, Assembling the Expedition Team. Different members of the expedition have different roles. You’re the captain, but it’s going to help you to have this kind of network that you can fall back onto in different aspects.

[00:08:58] So this is it for the PhD dojo of this week. Thanks for watching, thanks for listening, and I hope you’re going to find these resources, maybe not all at the same time, but at least start keeping an eye open, and and I’m sure this is going to help you. Thanks again, have a great week and have a great PhD.

Looking forward to being in your ears !

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