My friend and long-lost relative published an interesting piece where she wrote a letter to herself 5 years ago and she suggested that I do the same. I thought I would tweak it slightly to write to myself when I had just started my PhD. So here goes…..
You are a fresh, starry-eyed, passionate, brand spanking new PhD student. You can not believe that you have been given the opportunity to get paid to study something that you are passionate about. I am writing to you from 4ish years down the journey, yes sorry to break it to you, you do not achieve your goal of finishing a PhD in 3 years OR achieve your goal of being a doctor by the time you are 25, but you have reasons for that.
You honestly could have never predicted (and you wouldn’t have wanted to) what your PhD journey is going to be like. I know that right now you are anticipating a ‘marathon and not a sprint’ and probably a few tears along the way. Both those things are true.
Before I get into it all, I want to focus on now. Despite everything that has happened over the past 4 years you are about to submit your PhD, you are working full time in your dream job (not the dream job you currently expect), you live right in the city, you have beautiful people in your life, and you are happy.
The PhD was (and still is currently) hard, like I mean really really hard. It pushes you mentally in a way that you can never be prepared for. It gave you grey hairs at the prime age of 25, gave you so many pimples (I know that right now you secretly enjoy getting one pimple because it means you can pop it- not enjoyable anymore), it has at times made you a person that you don’t particularly like (negative, snappy etc.). Outside of the PhD, life was harder. Something unimaginable and horrible happens, that at the time you think you can never get past. I guess in a way that is true, YOU, the you that you are right now doesn’t get past it. It changes you, it changes your outlook, it changes your life. But despite this and all of the horrible ways your life has changed, you have been resilient. If I was to describe the person you are currently, in 2015, I would probably say, ‘passionate’. If I was to describe the person you are now in one word it would be ‘resilient’.
Quite often you regret doing the PhD, but when I really think about it, even if it was possible, I wouldn’t tell you to give it up now. It has helped shape the person you are today. The PhD along with the accident has changed your outlook on life. You now know that life is too short to work in a job the consumes you and takes you away from your loved ones and from yourself. That is why you one of the reason you decide to leave academia and move into the industry in market research (I know, after all this you end up in business where you almost went right out of school). You are genuinely happy and so proud of yourself. You fear the future now more than you ever, because you know that things can change rapidly, but you are also taking it in your stride and living each day as it comes.
You don’t really know where you want your career to go from here, and you care less about your career now than you do currently. Not in a negative way, you are still driven and still a hard worker, you just place more emphasis on other things in your life now. You love research because you are as curious as ever, and market research allows your curiosity and creativity to thrive.
I am proud of the person you were in at the start of the PhD and proud of the person you are in now, four years down the track, and I think that is a big deal.