PhD: Year 1, done.

A short review of my first year

Posted by Danny Schnitzler on January 09, 2021 · 3 mins read

At the end of my first year I was a up for my review. It is a formal meeting with my thesis committee, ensuring I am on the right track. I prepared a presentation and talking points. I was ready. And then a few hours before the meeting I felt anxious, jittery, and nervous. This was the first thing approaching an exam during my PhD. It hit me how high the stakes were. Was this going to be end of my academic career? Okay, maybe I had had too much coffee that morning, and anxiety was making me a little dramatic. During the meeting, I laid out what I had accomplished that year. In my mind, it was not enough; poor quality, insufficient quantity. When asked if I had any concerns, I almost started blubbering – because of my knee injury I ended up missing almost five months of my PhD. I had intended on completing so much more than I had. Luckily, before it turned into a full on, cry-in-front-of-my-supervisors embarrassing, I was assured that everything was okay. I had a lot of data. I was in my first year of four – many students take the first year to read and get their heads in the game. I was overreacting. Story of my life.

I had a bit of a funny start – I had technically already started working for my supervisor as a technician before I started my PhD. However, I had to be signed off due to poor mental health, so I started my PhD after a little break. When I came back to work, I jumped right into animal work. Five months of animal work later, I ran one experiment with the blood plasma I had collected. Then – hiatus. Boring to read, boring to live through. And stressful – knowing I had so much work to do in the lab while I couldn’t even stand unaided for an hour. So, I did what I could, analysing behavioural data, reading, and stressing. Fast forward five months, I was back in the lab extracting DNA from rat fecal samples and slicing rat brains. Onwards and upwards.

Aside from the lab-based work of my PhD, I also had a lot of other commitments. I am funded by a branch of a UK BBSRC research council called EASTBIO. They fund projects in four Scottish universities, and support students through additional training. In order for funding to continue, students must attend several thematic group meetings, a variety of workshops, and the annual symposium. These events are always enjoyable and allow me to catch up with my peers across the different universities. However, these events required travel and time – which made time management key.

Overall, the first year was rockier than I would have wanted, but to parrot the clichéd trope: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. Although in my case, it feels like it’s been more of a blind obstacle course.