From undergraduate to PhD student
If someone had asked me at the start of my final year of my undergraduate degree, ‘do you fancy doing a PhD when you finish uni?’ my answer would have been an outright NO! Yet, here I am, now in my second year of my PhD in the role of exercise on cardiovascular disease risk in psoriasis. So what changed my mind? Well, it was only when I entered my final year of my undergraduate degree that I actually started to seriously consider my career options. My undergraduate degree was in Biomedical Sciences and I wanted to find out what I could do with my degree (aside from the obvious career pathways like Biomedical Scientist or scientific research).
So, after hours of trawling the internet, numerous career appointments and countless chats with my academic tutors I had a much clearer idea of what was out there. However, despite all this time and effort I invested into researching potential future careers I still wasn’t 100% sure. Although, I particularly liked the idea of becoming a medical writer because writing is something I like doing and something that I enjoy. Also I had a lot of time for my subject area as I found it interesting and enjoyed learning about various aspects of science.
Another thing which interested me was intellectual property, which was first brought to my attention in one of my pharmacology lectures. I soon learned that I could become a patent attorney. The more I read about this area of work, the more it appealed to me. This career path is an opportunity to merge law and science. Naturally, because I don’t have a background in law (like the vast majority of patent attorneys according to my research) this career requires you to undertake training and sit examinations. This is something which doesn’t really bother me too much (after all I’ve already spent years doing it and a couple more won’t hurt!). Anyway, after reading up on what’s required for this type of career I found that a PhD is ‘preferable.’ Now I know this doesn’t mean a PhD is essential, however, I thought whether I decide to go into medical writing or become a patent attorney, either way a PhD will stand me in good stead.
So that’s when I took the plunge and began searching for a PhD. I had a specific criterion already in mind in terms of what I wanted from a PhD. The things I knew for sure was: a) I wanted to stay at the University of Manchester, b) I wanted a PhD with a studentship so I didn’t have to worry about funds for the next 3 or 4 years and c) I didn’t want a PhD that was solely lab-based (I didn’t mind a bit of lab work but I hated being in the lab for hours on end!). So with all this in mind I started looking at what was on offer and began to pick out projects which captured my interest.
Eventually, I decided to apply for two PhD projects. I realise this doesn’t sound like a lot but the way I saw it was a PhD is a huge commitment and I wanted to be sure that my chosen project was something I was interested in and something I wanted to dedicate my time and effort to. And so for this reason I was very selective in terms of my applications for PhD projects. Something else which really helped me decide on which projects I wanted to submit applications to was going and actually talking to the supervisors about the project and what exactly I would be doing as a PhD student on their project.
So… out of the two applications I submitted I was invited for interview for one of the projects along with two other candidates. The supervisor requested that each candidate put together a presentation covering various topics including: why did we want to do a PhD, why did we want to do a PhD in Manchester and why did we want this specific project. Each candidate was also sent a copy of the research proposal which we were asked to read and comment on in our presentations. We had to say how we would structure our approach/time to the work outlined in the proposal and also comment on how we would perhaps improve the proposal and what other ideas we had.
The interview itself was, as you can imagine, nerve-wracking and very stressful! However, it was a valuable experience. There were five interviewers on the panel, three of which were my potential supervisors. Personally, I found the interview particularly stressful as I was up against two other candidates who both had a Master’s degree along with other research experience, whereas I had just come to the end of my undergraduate degree and was expected to achieve a 2.1.
Anyway, after the stress of my final exams and the PhD interview I found out (just a few days after the interview) that I had been awarded the position on the PhD programme. Naturally, I was over the moon and accepted the place on the programme! Now here I am in my second year of my PhD and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience so far.