To Regret or not to Regret.. that is the Question

Life, University

I have actually had several people say to me that they regret their Ph.D. they’re either several years graduated or several months. It might be a surprise to hear, but people look at their achievements in different ways.

Most them feel that their Ph.D. was not required for the career they’re in and could have gained an extra three or so years of industrial experience and climb the ladder quicker. Whilst others have gone into a career completely opposite to what they had studied.

Currently, I’m on the fence between regretting and firmly satisfied with the decision I made.

Let me break this down.

Regret – I do not want to go into academia. An additional three years for a doctorate has only reduced industrial experience and the job market is dismal. The advantage of having a Ph.D. from say fifteen years ago where you could enter a job quite high up, on a good salary has long gone. There is a saturation of both science graduates and Ph.D. graduates because funding for Ph.D.’s has become more accessible.

I recently read an article that was describing the issue with degrees these days, where there are so many science graduates but not enough jobs or the ability to gain footing on a career other than going through a graduate scheme because universities aren’t giving more specific training for industry. Technician jobs are therefore not being filled because they don’t have the training but are overqualified. It really a roundabout problem, which universities need to collectively solve.

This is where I’m at now. Applying for a range of laboratory and office based scientific jobs that I am somewhat qualified and overqualified for with no industry experience and it’s frustrating because I know I can do these jobs given the chance.

Comparison is another reason why I’m leaning to regret. I see many people who I went to secondary school with or university who have just bought their first homes, they’re settled into careers. Earning money. Appear happy on the surface. Where am I? Potentially unemployed if I don’t find something before my Ph.D. funding runs out, with absolutely no savings or a chance of owning a home before I’m 30 because a studentship isn’t exactly allowing me to live in Edinburgh and save at the same time.

Satisfied – Back three and a half years ago I couldn’t see myself doing anything but a Ph.D. I’d just finished a six-month MSci project in a research laboratory and I wanted to just continue working in a lab doing novel research. A Ph.D. was an obvious step for me. I remember feeling so excited when I was accepted on my place here and when I was accepted at my undergraduate university. I also remember how dejected I felt when I failed to secure funding for the position at my old uni. I had a pit in my stomach that I wouldn’t be able to do a Ph.D. Then I was offered my current post.

Applying for jobs wasn’t on my radar because industry wasn’t something I wanted yet. I wanted a gap between finishing my Master’s. I firmly believe I’m currently where I’m supposed to be. As anxiety driven I am. I follow the everything happens for a reason outlook on life that my mum has drilled into me since I was young.

Whether I end up in a laboratory after so many years of research work or in an office-based job instead, remains to be seen.

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Three days is never enough for Singapore

Life

The end of our trip to Australia led us to a three day stop-over in Singapore. I can honestly say it is one of the most amazing places on the planet I’ve ever visited. They’re really living in the future over there! Singapore as a trip was planned out to the last minute, where we ate, where we visited, shopped and three days was not enough time at all! I desperately want to go back to do more sightseeing.

First and foremost, it goes without saying, Singapore and the Marina Bay Sands are synonymous. I was extremely fortunate to have the experience of staying there during the trip. It really is something to marvel at in terms of architecture. The hotel itself was amazing, the rooms were as luxurious as you could expect, I wanted to just live in the bathroom! Another great thing is that you’re sat with a direct link to the Shoppes (have no doubt that shoppe till we droppe was used constantly), never mind I couldn’t dare afford anything but a Starbucks (ok, so maybe that’s a stretch, but it is home to mainly expensive designers). The views from the infinity pool and sky park are amazing too.

Whilst waiting around for the room to get ready we wandered around the Shoppes and ate in the DC Comics café – this was amazing, there were cakes, drinks and meals all themed and named around DC superheroes. One of the first things we did when we arrived in Singapore was realise just how bloody humid it was.

It was actually unbearable at times and we hopped from place to place for air conditioning! I can deal with heat from the sun but when you add in that humidity its stifling! Our naivety was quickly realised, and we knew instantly that we would not be going around on foot, so I highly recommend getting a tourist pass for the MRT! You can pretty much get to anywhere you want and it’s easy to navigate. Not only that, it cost us $30 for three days with $10 being refundable upon handing the pass back in. $20 for unlimited travel? Pretty darn good!

After spending much of the first day waiting around to get in our room and exploring the hotel we ventured out to meet up with some family members of my friend who live over there. This was excellent for us because we had a local perspective on where to eat! We went out in Chinatown which is a must for experiencing. The little markets that line the streets and the ginormous temple is an amazing thing to see and explore. As you can expect – the food here is also amazing! With the advantage of a native Malay speaker, we ended up in a warehouse type place with loads of little food outlets housed in what could only be described as looking like little garages! The language barrier wasn’t a huge issue when I ordered a sugar cane drink (SO SWEET BUT YOU MUST TRY!) and a bottle of water. The food was amazing! A platter of different Asian style meats for $20 with another platter of noodles, rice, etc in total $60 was spent to feed 6 people! img_1981

The second day was spent getting up very early to avoid the hustle and bustle of workers and tourists. I highly recommend exploring Singapore early in the morning for those amazing city shots from the MBS skypark and pictures in the Gardens by the Bay without thousands of people in the way. It was so peaceful walking around at 7:30am and we kept a slow pace taking it all in.

 

During the afternoon we went to the Cloud Forest this was $12, so good value and a great place to explore with the indoor waterfall and views of Singapore. The Gardens by the Bay are a marvel at both the early morning and the night show. We stumbled upon this accidentally and it was so beautiful to see the lights.

Another treat on the second day was at the Art & Science Museum, presently, there is a Marvel exhibition to celebrate 10 years of Marvel movies. This was a great small exhibition for $18 and included seeing a huge Iron Man!img_2408

On the final day, what else to do with limited time but go to Orchard Road?! Singapore’s famous Orchard Road is littered with shopping mall after shopping mall. If you have $$$’s to spend it’s the place to go, with many malls with just designer stores. I spent a fair amount of money on myself in a sale at Abercrombie and Fitch! Everything I bought worked out at £9 a piece! I also spent time in Tang’s. This is a must to see as it’s a famous Singapore department store.

Three days was far too little time to spend in a place like Singapore. There is so much more I would have liked to do, including the Singapore flyer, Sentosa beach, etc, the list is too long. It’s going to be a while before I get back there but I can’t wait.

How I spent three days in Cairns

Life

In August I spent three weeks in Australia on a holiday of a lifetime. I was invited along for an all-expenses paid trip (except food and spending money) by my friend’s incredibly generous grandmother.  In my previous post I discussed what I got up to in Sydney. After Sydney we ventured on to Ayres Rock – whilst this was an amazing experience and there is something incredibly spiritual about being on that land, it is a huge rock in the middle of the outback.

With that in mind, spending three days in a resort where everything is absolutely extortionate because there’s nowhere else for food or drink is not something I really want to talk about. The outcome after visiting? You need money and lots of it to keep yourself entertained at the resort. After Ayres Rock, we arrived in Cairns. It was raining as we arrived and managed to spot a rainbow!

Cairns is a charming town with easy connections to beaches and an Esplanade in the centre where people can sunbathe and take a dip. The best part of the Cairns trip for me was getting the cable car across the rainforest to Kuranda.

This was a beautiful journey along the way, if you can manage being so high up! The town itself was very small but lively with tourists and markets. I managed to pick up cheap leather keyring souvenirs for family for just $10 and I wish I had picked up more to give out! Another highlight in Kuranda was the food. I was craving Pad Thai when I arrived and scouted out a place almost instantly. It was absolutely delicious and extremely cheap. On the return, we used the Kuranda Scenic Railway which was beautiful. Waterfalls, sheer drops, the scenery was amazing. The train station was a treat in itself and the train looked like something out of the Polar Express, the journey down took us through several suburbs before we reached central Cairns.

The second day we spent on an organised trip out to the great barrier reef. I’m not one for open water so there was no way I was getting into the sea to snorkel or dive! The boat had an observatory where coral and fish could be seen but other than that much of the day was spent lying around trying to catch some sun through the clouds. Those boat trips are really only of value if you’re going to take part in the activities if water sports/activities are your thing.

This was the day we had to get shopping in! After a long day at sea we popped into Cairns Central due to their extended opening hours on that day. A few of the stores we checked out with keen interest purely because we don’t have a Kmart, Target or Cotton On in the UK. I managed to pick up some bargains as well as some Christmas gifts for family.

The final day was spent on Green Island. This was an amazing experience. I have never seen water so blue before! It was a real treat to get out of the town to this island and just lounge around all day on the beach. There are plenty opportunities for sea walking, snorkelling, trips on glass bottom boats, etc. The island has places to eat and drink – with prices that aren’t too bad considering how isolated it is.

Now the most important thing: Food.

There are loads of cheap places to eat in Cairns. The night market is one of the places for this, one evening I had a large takeout tub of Asian food for $16. It was amazing. Seriously. Pubs and restaurants line the streets towards the Esplanade so there is plenty to choose from. My favourite was the final place we ate in Cairns, this was because I’d promised myself I would get the chance to eat Australian Blue mussels at some point. It wasn’t the cheapest option ($28.50), but it was a nice treat on the final night and the restaurant, Dundee’s, was on the waterfront.

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Cairns was an experience. Seeing the great barrier reef on Green Island and the trip to Kuranada were my favourite parts. Given the chance again, I would like to explore Port Douglas and the Low Isles! This was our last stop in Australia and whilst everyplace had something amazing to experience, Sydney was my favourite place.

What comes next?

Life

Those famous little words uttered by King George III (not true). This is the question that is constantly plaguing me and will no doubt be asked multiple times when I go home for Christmas.

I’m not stressed about the normal things I should be stressed about. Like say, thesis writing? Hello? Maybe the biggest thing that needs to be done. That is one thing I’ve got down. My future. Not so much.

It actually terrifies me to think beyond the week at the moment. I like to have things set in stone, I’m not someone who can just go with it. To not know what I’ll be doing – where I’ll be in six months stresses me out.

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I have worked super hard to be where I’m out now. I’m still surprised I’ve made it this far. My biggest fear in life is failure and I’ve had my setbacks sure but fearing unemployment after so many years of study is giving me the hives.

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Re-watching the last season of Gilmore Girls probably hasn’t helped with the anxiety either. Rory is in the same position just before graduating – panicking at seeing everyone around settled and knowing what they’re doing and not knowing what you’re going to do.

The added pressure from people around, “I hate that. Everyone assuming I’m going to do an amazing job all the time, like it’s a given. It’s not a given.” This is so true. My aunt had some delusional idea that after being in academia and having all my qualifications I would be on some serious £££. In reality, her sons are probably going to be on a much higher salary that I will be for some time!

There are two drastic differences between myself and Rory Gilmore. She has the financial backing to keep her car, her phone and her lifestyle if she doesn’t find something straight away. Me? I’ll move back in with my parents and ask them to subsidise my phone bill and hand back my car to the finance company.

It doesn’t sound so bad as the worst-case scenario but I have so much pride over being financially independent for the last seven years that it gives me anxiety thinking about it.

There are two main things that are really starting to keep me up at night:

  1. What do I actually want to do?
  2. Are there that many opportunities out there at the moment?

The first of which is a simple toss-up between do I want to stay in research or do I want to move into a different field. At the moment I’m considering both laboratory employment and office based, it really depends on the job profile and if I can see myself doing it.

The second one is a bit more tricky. The job market is shocking and has been pretty much since I started my undergraduate degree. Not only that, I’m now in a position where I’m overqualified but under experienced for a lot of roles. Which leads me to either apply for technician roles and work my way up (which I have no qualms in doing) but they often see the Ph.D. on the CV and reject the application based on the fact that most people would use the position as a filler to gain experience and move on quickly. Or the other option, graduate schemes. Which I then feel, what was the point in doing my Ph.D. when I could have applied for a graduate scheme straight out of my masters.

I still have a few more months before I must ramp up the job search. My CV is polished and ready to go so I have a few more months of living in a bubble. I have applied for five jobs already, a few of these are graduate schemes that I feel I can see myself working in and one is a job that is close to home.

Whilst I have no ties keeping me in one place. I do want to be somewhere much nearer home than the six-hour drive position I’m currently in. I’ve been away from home for almost seven years now and it’s been great but I’m finally starting to feel down about missing out on family events and not being able to just nip and see my family when I want to.

This is also the point at which I’m halfway through my 20’s. I know I’ve accomplished a lot but I feel like I’m a couple years behind people who went straight into work at 21. I feel like a hot mess of thoughts right now but deep down I know this is natural. I’ve seen the last few people in my office get jobs before the end of their Ph.D. or get one within three months of leaving.

So, I leave myself with words of wisdom from Lorelai Gilmore:

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One bowl gluten-free banana bread

Recipes

I have been an absolute fiend for banana bread recently. I’ve made three loafs in a matter of two weeks. My Ph.D. thesis has really started to drive me up the wall so a baking break or scoffing down a cheeky slice with a cup of tea whilst re-watching an old episode of Gilmore Girls in between writing has really helped!

The recipe for banana bread is very simple, requires only one bowl and the great thing about banana bread is you can pretty much add any extras to jazz it up. We’re talkin’ chocolate chips, cocoa powder, nuts, etc. the list goes on and on. In fact, the worst thing about this recipe is waiting for it to cool down to cut!

I’ve trialled a few recipes the last few weeks, a couple where I was running low on eggs or unsalted butter, so I had to adapt and using a reduced amount of butter and eggs worked just as well! I love this recipe, the bread is moist, as a nice texture to the crust and most important of all that banana flavour is strong.

Ingredients:

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 240g gf self-rising flour
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 3 ripe bananas

I often add mixed spice to this recipe by eye balling the amount, roughly 1tsp. I find that by adding this you get this amazing autumnal scent and taste from the cinnamon, which is perfect for this time of year.

Method:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together
  2. Add the eggs separately and mix in
  3. Add all dry ingredients to the bowl and mix thoroughly
  4. Mash the bananas and add to the mixture
  5. Pour to a pre-lined loaf tin
  6. Place into a preheated over (190oC) for 50 minutes or until golden brown on the top

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I adore this recipe at the moment and I can guarantee my thesis is going to be written fuelled by banana loaf and caffeine!

How I spent my time in Sydney

Life

I recently came back from the holiday of a lifetime. It couldn’t have come at a better time, right before I start writing my thesis and the hunt for a postgraduate job. I visited Sydney, Uluru (Ayres Rock), Cairns and Singapore.

The holiday was a huge group trip with some set trips, which meant although I enjoyed them, it’s not necessarily what I would have planned to do or spend the limited time we had in each destination. Sydney, however, was one place that we had full reign over. To add to that, I’m a student who took a grand total of $600 away and ended up changing a good chunk on the way to Singapore.

It’s coming along swiftly

University

Planning is literally the only way a thesis will get written. Before I started writing a wrote a draft plan of the individual chapters, sections in these chapters and the information that needed to be covered. Writing has been made so much easier because of this.

Another thing that I have found which makes writing easier is to set little targets which makes you feel like you can see progress rather than looking at the document and think, “I still have so much left to write before I’m done.” I don’t really aim for a set word count a day, although I do promise myself a cup of tea and biscuits when I’ve written 500 words! Instead, I set targets as sections within a chapter, if I can get a few done a day I’m pleased with myself and can see the formation of the thesis.

Currently, I’ve started my first results chapter. I started with my introduction, which typically, is the longest chapter of a thesis. I started writing pieces of my introduction in April and finished it in July, just before I went on holiday to Australia. I set a target to have it finished by my holiday and I did! Although I wasn’t writing full time, even if I had, I know this would have taken me ages to write. There is a set format for my introduction, the field I’m researching in is established so background theory is pretty much the same for every thesis, and the literature review for novel materials follows the same format in my research group as we focus on one subclass of crystal structure. I did find it somewhat useful to be able to look at submitted thesis’s and see the layout.

After I got back from my holiday I told my supervisor I would be working from home two days a week to focus on thesis writing but also that I would be writing at work and wanted to come out of the lab. This was agreed upon, whilst I have a little bit of lab work to finish, I’m technically writing up full time. I managed to get my experimental chapter finished within the first week of being back from holiday.

Whilst most of my results chapters are written in fragments as potential manuscripts, the added details and extra figures that do not go into manuscripts still have to be merged in. I think the results chapters are what is going to take me the longest to complete – although I have been told by many people this part was easy for them to write.

I’m almost through the first results chapter, although I have no doubt there will be a lot of revisions advised by my supervisor. I aim to finish my part of the first thesis draft, by the end of October and hope to have corrections back to me so I can submit the latest – early January. At this rate, I can then focus the remaining two months to the job hunt.

Let’s just hope procrastination doesn’t set in!