In the trenches with a PhD
In a nutshell, the life of a PhD researcher involves around: 1) learning your area, 2) learning how to carry out research 3) presenting at academic conferences, and 4) writing research papers.
Now for some this might sound boring. Luckily there is a little more to it than this such as travelling the world, meeting experts in their field and flexible working hours.
So, to do number 1, we must first do number 2, 3 and 4. To be able to carry out points 3 and 4, we must generate the data to be presented at a conference or submitted to an academic journal. For some, presenting and writing are their “Bread and Butter”; this is what they love about their job, and what they are good at; and rightly so, these are essential skills that all academics need to be successful. It’s just I don’t love doing them.
What I love is number 2 in the list above, the work in the “trenches”, the hours in the lab, the time spent with willing and selfless participants, running them through the protocols or experiments we have developed. These are individuals who are more than happy to give us weeks or months of their time for no monetary gain and nothing other than saying they took part.
For some research, that is it, the participant takes part and the researcher benefits. The researcher gets the data required for papers and conferences, and the participants go back to their lives and never know what happens to their data. I’m fortunate that my area involves me helping people, survivors of cancer.
Currently I am in Seville until the end of July. I have recently started a short-term study looking at the progressive use of electrical stimulation over a 4-week period and investigating how it can help improve physical function so that everyday tasks such as rising from a chair and walking become easier. I have currently 3 participants who have started and 3 more who will start over the next 2 weeks. Two of the participants have already completed 2-weeks and the feedback from them so far has been excellent. One participant, who suffers from lung cancer, at the beginning during her first session where we tested her physical function struggled to rise from a chair more than once. When we met again after two weeks to discuss her progress, she explained that she can rise multiple times now with ease. She also now finds walking easier, so much that a 1 hour walk which was likely unachievable before is now possible.
Its feedback like this and the look of enthusiasm and joy from both her and her husband that makes what I’m doing so worth it. I’m more than happy to admit that I’m probably not smart enough to be a medical doctor, the one job in the world which epitomises helping others. However, we all have the ability to help others. For me, small improvements like those seen in my participant are what makes doing what I am doing worth the hours spent writing papers and preparing (nervously) to give presentations at conferences.
As the saying goes, “not all superheroes wear capes”, and certainly “not all doctors wear white coats”.