I am finally in my third and final year of my PhD program and I know I am not alone in this questioning phase: have I chosen right by starting a PhD? Should I quit and find a job? Should I keep going? I know these are crucial questions for lots of us, so I was wondering when it is time to give up and when you can keep going and finish. I started this blog as a way to communicate and get in touch with scientists and, hopefully, being helpful to people that get lost on bioinformatics issues. I am really trying to keep my blog bioinformatics based, but I think that also posts like this can be very helpful not only for me but also to everyone in my same situation. I started the blog to find a way to communicate with the bioinformatics community and talk about my project while sharing some readings and interesting facts, but one of the many good pieces of advice from my main supervisor was to write and keep writing – even about my PhD experience. So here I am, in a time of struggle, trying to share my point of view, and my doubts about this demanding time of my life. In writing this I hope to get (and hopefully give) some help and support from people around the world who feel and felt the same way during their PhD, while at the same time keeping myself, and others like me, motivated.
My PhD has not been one of the simplest. Lots of unpleasant things happened (you can read it in a previous post here) and I thought that moving back to the UK would have helped me finding technical and personal support to finish my project. Unfortunately, even in Europe I am facing issues that make me consider if I should finish my PhD or not. A very nice friend gave me good advice and asked me if I could answer this apparently simple question: “Why are you doing it?” Well, at first I thought that I always wanted to do research and become a lecturer at some point, but I realised that, on top of everything, I am in love with the bioinformatics (ok, it is a love-hate relationship). When I understood that bioinformatics is my priority, I started thinking that probably I won’t need a PhD to work in this field, as I already have a Masters in bioinformatics and this might be enough to find a position as a bioinformatician or a technician. But, wouldn’t it be better if I also had my PhD? How will a company/institution see my choice not to complete my PhD?
When I started my PhD I was deeply and completely in love with my project; it was everything I always dreamed about and it involved the marine environment, viruses, and bioinformatics. I couldn’t have asked for a better project! Unfortunately, it was fool’s gold and that’s why I am in such a massive struggle, which makes me not a happy person anymore.
Why I don’t feel as motivated as I was at the beginning? I do think it can be a normal process during a PhD program but mainly I feel tired and setting daily goals can be difficult sometimes, especially having to deal with a change in the project during my third year (due to some problems with the sequencing). So for all these reasons I feel like I am failing on every level: apart from a book chapter, I haven’t published a single paper yet, which makes me feel very incompetent. Why should I finish my PhD? Well, for various reasons: I personally feel I have been quite good in building a network of people, researchers and amazing friends. I am also getting independent in my own work and in learning how to ask for help when I feel not capable of doing something. I am learning new skills and despite lack of money I don’t feel I lack in inventiveness managing to meet with the bioinformatics community in South Africa through the CUB meetings in Cape Town.
What would I like to do to help others and myself in staying motivated? I have decided to write a post, of course, and to start a hashtag on twitter: #IcanfinishmyPhDbecause. In this way I hope people will share their goals and this will to help me, and others like me, through the hard time during the PhD. Hopefully it will help us stay motivated and, let’s admit it, sane. Remember: if you and I made it ‘till here, it is definitely possible to make it to the end.