The decision to do a PhD stemmed from the interest in academia. Doing a PhD was compulsory to gain that scholastic experience, independent scientific thinking and a better glimpse of the life of an academic. NGS was an obvious choice for someone who wants to get a PhD locally due to its prestige (for both students and supervisors, therefore serving as a “quality control” of some sort), the independence and freedom of the research topics, and, I shall not deny it, the higher-than-average stipend. I was lucky to be part of the “2+2” programme that gave me the experience of my life. And for that, I truly appreciate NGS for putting their students’ interest as top priority and demonstrated the flexibility and support that they did for me.
The programme entailed that I spend 2 years in the States to work on my PhD research project, and that is the most unforgettable time of my life. Granted, the harsh winters and lack of late night supper options (think roti pratas and milo dinosaur) made me question my choice at times. However, the fact that I would only be there for a limited two-year period made me embrace and appreciate whatever experience that came my way. Being able to work with other scientists who were immersed in the foreign academic system was an eye-opening experience. It was amazing how much passion and enthusiasm they had for science, not just on the topics that they worked on but also on those that their peers were doing. They were vocal with their comments and humble with their questions. We had T.G.I.F. sessions on every Friday evenings, where the institute provided free booze and snacks for scientists to unwind and communicate our work and thoughts. And really, the sessions were therapeutic after a week of frustrations and failed experiments, which happened way to often in scientific research.
Doing science itself is a tedious and very often, frustrating experience. The rate of success is never as high as what you want/hope/fantasize, and failures, both small and big, occur so frequently that they become the norm. As a PhD student I was very blessed to have great publications with the help of a great team and brilliant supervisors, but I had also tasted self-doubt and delusion. I had gone through one year of trial-and-error experiments for my core project that I thought would never succeed, and gotten so close to success only to find out at the last hour that it was an artefact. Confidence get crushed often during the course of a PhD, but I believe all of us eventually learn to bounce back from the failures and seek new ways to attain success. The PhD course does not only teach the student the techniques, but also an outlook. You just keep trying till you succeed, and improve every time.
So do not be overly optimistic about doing the PhD, that every day will be a “eureka” moment and every result will be life changing. Think twice before committing the 4 years. That said, it will teach you resilience, passion, humility, and a deep sense of appreciation for every good thing that comes your way. It will not only help you in Science, but also benefit you in whatever career path you may seek eventually.