By the time this blog is published, I will have finished all of my PhD experiments. That’s right, I’ll no longer have to spend countless hours in a dark room. But as I’m getting closer to the end, I’m beginning to think about the PhD experience, and all the opportunities I’ve been able to seize. So, I thought I would use this blog to share with you all some potential opportunities that are available to PhD students that may help you get the most out of your PhD.
Get involved in your research area/lab/field – Get more involved with your lab by attending lab meetings, attending departmental seminars and even just chatting with your colleagues over a coffee. I’ve found Twitter to be really helpful in connecting with others in the field, especially those at other institutions! Another great way to get involved in your wider field is through ISTAART: International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment . ISTAART have 29 professional interest areas including Nutrition, Metabolism and Dementia, Vascular Cognitive Disorders, PIA to Elevate Early Career Researchers that you can join to connect with researchers across the globe! What’s even better is that membership for students in now free!
Try your hand at teaching – Teaching others is not for everyone but if you are at all interested in doing any teaching during your PhD in can be a really valuable experience. You could be a lab demonstrator and teach dissection classes or even a teaching assistant helping out in statistics classes. Also, lots of universities in the UK have a scheme where you can be recognised for your teaching experiences and gain accreditation such as the AFHEA (Associate fellow of higher education) . This can look great on your CV and be helpful if teaching is the avenue you want to go down. If teaching at university level isn’t for you, you could also have a go at teaching young people. The Brilliant club  is a charity in the UK who aim to give young people from underrepresented background the ‘skills, knowledge and confidence’ to apply and progress to highly selective universities. As a PhD tutor, you would go into schools and deliver tutorials based on a handbook of a specific topic or a handbook made by you about your own PhD research! Not only would this experience allow you to show your passion for your research but you may even be able to inspire the next generation of dementia researchers!
Network with your peers, colleagues and the field – Whatever stage you are at in your PhD I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the importance of networking (and if not, you can read my previous blog  on the topic). There are loads of ways to network with your peers, colleagues and the field as a whole, whether that be via social media or in person activities. However, one of the best ways to network is at conferences – some conferences relevant to the dementia field include AAIC , SfN  and ARUK Research conference . As PhD students it can be difficult to go to conferences, however most conferences offer discounted rates for students and travel fellowships. For example, AAIC have a new scheme called ISTAART ambassadors  where they provide year-round networking opportunities and the opportunity to attend and volunteer at AAIC where they pay for registration, travel and accommodation! This is an awesome opportunity for students and post docs as it allows you to go to vital conferences in the dementia field and network as well as bringing a group of ECRs together! You can also apply for a trainee professional development award  to attend SfN (Society for neuroscience conference) whereby they waiver your registration and provide you with networking opportunities for the year.
Talk about your work (or other people’s work) – I am definitely someone that loves to talk about their work, I know it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but there are so many things you can gain by talking about your work including: confidence, a better understanding of your work and better communication skills! Whether you want to talk about your work to fellow researchers or you want to talk about your work to the public both can be super beneficial. ARUK have grant scheme called the inspire fund  whereby you can apply for money for public engagement activities to increase awareness and understanding of what dementia is. If you feel that talking about your own work is not for you, you could always write about it – through blogging or social media accounts! The dementia researcher website  is always on the lookout for fellow dementia researchers to talk about their research and research interests. Finally, if you don’t want to talk about your own work you could talk about other people’s work through podcasts. The AMINDR podcast  (a month in neurodegenerative research) is a podcast that summarises the latest Alzheimer’s disease research articles and their podcast team are continually looking for volunteers to join them!
Schedule in time for you – Even though this is the last in my list it certainly is not the least important, in fact scheduling in time for yourself is a very important part of your PhD. PhD research can be incredibly lonely and consuming and so it’s also important to not only schedule in all those experiments but also to schedule in breaks and time away from your work. PhDs take many years and your life can’t just be put on hold because you’re getting a PhD. So have hobbies, try new things, watch all the reality TV you want.
I hope this blog has given you an idea of some of the extra things you can also do during your PhD – if you want to. And I hope that this blog has put some of these extra things in one place for you because when I first started my PhD, I had no idea about any of these opportunities. Finally, I must add that everyone’s PhD, and life circumstances are different and there is no one size fits all and no one right way to ‘make the most of your PhD’. The only way to actually make the most is by doing what’s right for you!
Beth Eyre is a PhD Student at The University of Sheffield, researching Neurovascular and cognitive function in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Beth has a background in psychology, where she gained her degree from the University of Leeds. Inside and outside the lab, Beth loves sharing her science and we are delighted to have her contributing as a regular blogger with Dementia Researcher, sharing her work and discussing her career.