Wednesday, 1 October 2014

One year into the PhD...what have I done, exactly?

This time last year, I enrolled as a PhD student. I have just enrolled for my second year. I have to do reports for my funders, so this is a good time to review what I have done.

What I said I would have done by now:
Completed my proposal and seminar
Collected female specimens from throughout NZ
Pitfall trapped males
2 conferences with presentations
Completed sequencing for phylogeny (yeah, right!)
Measured explanatory variables for genetic variability study

What I have actually done (completed objectives in bold):
Completed my proposal and seminar
Collected female specimens from throughout NZ
Been handed some males from the public, and pinpointed good places to set pitfall traps
2 conferences with presentations
Begun sequencing for phylogeny
Found someone to help me with genetic and ecology fieldwork early next year

So I have only really completed half of my objectives. But, looking back, my proposal was supposed to be unrealistic - it was trying to convince the university that I really could do everything in three years. I could probably have done all of that stuff, apart from completing sequencing, but not so thoroughly as to do it justice. I think I have done the most important stuff to a sufficient standard: I have specimens, and I've started doing stuff with them.

In addition to the stuff I said that I would do, I have started to collect venom for an exciting project that will probably fail but hopefully won't (more importantly, it will give me some experience which might help me to get a postdoc). I have a couple of collaborations that I am working on, and I have done a fair bit of public outreach (articles for magazines and newsletters, and advertising my project, and talking to people and showing them spiders). I've nearly finished a manuscript to send to a spider journal. I've also got a bit of teaching experience. This stuff is more career-building than PhD-building but it is really important; some of my friends who are completing their PhDs fear this black hole that they will fall into when it is all done and they have no postdoc.

I've learned a hell of a lot in the past year, and enjoyed the vast majority of it. My work ethic has fluctuated a bit - the best time was when I was living walking distance away from uni, and didn't have much in the way of friends, so I could come in at 9, be strict with myself and leave at 5. Now living in town and carpooling and having friends (most of which get up in the early afternoon and work till late evening, which doesn't suit me at all), I find it hard to work an 8 hour day. I'm still getting stuff done, but I need to be stricter with myself.

This last year has been a blast, and I'm looking forward to the coming year. Hopefully I'll do a bit better at meeting my objectives, but overall I don't think I have been unsuccessful this year.

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