Trials and Tribulations: The Life of a PhD

This year, I completed & defended my Ph.D. at ETH Zurich in mammalian synthetic biology. So I thought it would be a good idea to write down some of my thoughts about how to successfully work in academia in an article. Though this is an article about working as a graduate student, I’m convinced that most of these points also apply to working in other challenging environments. What makes the work of PhDs distinctive as well as of general interest is the absence of a structured workflow, a common occurrence in creative work areas which become increasingly relevant in our day and age. This forces workers to showcase independence, to come up with their own routine, and improve it based on feedback.

Which kind of routine you choose depends on the framework conditions of your field of work. In academia for instance, especially in the life sciences, failure is omnipresent. Due to our insufficient understanding of the world around us, most of our experiments and hypotheses fail. So we have to find ways to i) decrease the rate of failed experiments, ii) decrease the amount of effort we invest into failing experiments & hypotheses, and iii) make ourselves emotionally robust against failure in order to survive our PhD studies without a mental breakdown. Strategies for these and other conundrums are further explored in the linked article. So now, it’s on to the next challenge, to learn more and become better!

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