For the Doctoral Development Programme
The experience of doing a PhD is challenging as you are invited to compete against the brightest and the best to solve a research problem. At first you feel up to the task and embark on a path towards your goals but pretty soon you realize there is more than one solution or one path to take you there. That understanding can make you feel overwhelmed! However, you hang in there and keep working and emerge few years later with a solid set or experiments and algorithms that you can write up in your thesis.
Looking back, I realize that the search was more important than the final endpoint. The results of research work are only partly manifested in research findings. The bulk of it is something intangible, which you have gained and will follow you for the rest of your life. It is called knowledge! The best skill you gain during your PhD is a strategy for acquiring more knowledge: first you need to find reliable sources of information; then you filter through to find what you need and finally you build upon existing knowledge to create new ideas. Sounds pretty simple right? Except it is not. Knowledge is hidden from your view in different journals or disciplines each with their own language and symbolism. The same ideas appear in different areas of science and many paths to understanding the same concept exist out there. So how do you decide which branch of this infinite tree of literature to climb up? Usually, you take the most visible path that can connect you from where you are in your current knowledge (the main branch) to the final outcome that you envisage (the fruit branch). This path is never the shortest! Once you find one fruit branch it tastes sweet so you go in search of another and then another. Over time, you find yourself on thinner and thinner branches because they hold the best fruit. You are addicted to research!
I followed a particularly winding branch that carried me from control engineering to stem cell research. I could have never imagined that when I was an undergraduate engineering student! It all started in my final undergraduate year when I came to Sheffield as an exchange student. I met people that inspired me and encouraged me to apply for PhD. I was at The University of Sheffield from 2007 until earlier this year as a student and then as a postdoc. During this time, I became an interdisciplinary researcher in cell biology and pursued laboratory training that is essential to me today. I am now a postdoc in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester working on neural development. My best advice is to take all the opportunities that are given to you. Especially those times when you are not sure you can do it. Knowledge is not predictable so how do you know if you are good at it if you are not willing to give it a try?