Doing a PhD: Two different stories
The value of doing a PhD is a theme we’ve discussed several times during the history of Careers After Biological Sciences both directly (e.g. here) and indirectly (when speakers have done a PhD as a step onto the later role they are discussing, e.g. here and here).
During the 2015 season of CABS talks we invited two further contributions from former Leicester undergraduates who were, at the time, working on their PhDs. Dan Rogerson was doing research on synthetic biology at the LMB in Cambridge, Ananthi Ramachandran was working on bacteriophages as potential therapies again Clostridium difficile in the Dept of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at Leicester. They were invited because they both have rather unusual features in the story of how they came into their research posts.
As he explained in his talk (slides below, and here), Dan did not wait to see what posts would be advertised. Instead he wrote letters to a number of potential supervisors describing projects he would like to conduct as part of their team.
Dan’s unusual strategy proved effective – he received offers from all four leading scientists to whom he made a pitch. He discusses this approach in his presentation, as well as offering some very helpful general advice on successfully negotiating the PhD experience – the highs and the lows. A transcript of Dan’s talk is available here.
In contrast, Ananthi (slides below, and here) spent a period after graduation working for a pharmaceutical company, initially as maternity cover. Uncertain of the promotion prospects in that role, she eventually ended up back in Leicester to do a PhD. After an initial hiccup, she moved on to her current project looking into phage as a treatment for Clostridium difficile. A transcript of her talk is available via this link.
There were common factors between the two talks. Both speakers emphasised the importance of researching the lab you are applying to work with; there’s more to an enjoyable and successful PhD than just having an interesting topic to study. The value of keeping your CV up to date also came across; thinking through how the activities you’ve done (final year project; other coursework; summer jobs, etc) can be used as evidence of the skills you have been developing.