PhD Chronicles: Part VI

During the course of this programme, I was introduced to podcasts by a friend and ever since then I’ve been hooked. Listening to podcasts made the long hours in the lab bearable especially when I’m all alone doing microscopy. I swung like a pendulum from one podcast to another, including The breakfast club, Alex Jones show, Joe Budden podcast, the church of what’s happening now, uncovered with Dr Laura Berman until I settled for the The Joe Rogan experience.

There’s something about this particular podcast that piqued my interest: it can be honest, funny, deep, informative/educative, real and raw all at the same time. The guests come from all walks of life ranging from comedians, politicians, musicians, sportsmen to scientists. However, what really impressed me about Joe Rogan was his abundance mentality and how he encourages people who have something to say to start their own podcasts. He understands that there’s enough room for everyone to excel and their successes won’t deter his own.

The abundance mentality stems from a deep sense of self and inner sense of self-worth. It is an archetypal thinking that there’s more than enough out there for everyone. It reflects in kindness, generosity, sharing accolades, complimenting and being happy for others. In return, it creates rooms for options, possibilities and alternatives. Contrastingly, the scarcity mentality is the mindset that you have to hoard whatever – whether it is time, knowledge, skills, money, food, emotions – you have as there will never be enough. This stems from fear, insecurity and a place of lack, and often reflects in envy, desperation, jealousy, talking trash about others, plotting/lying against others and malice.

The concept of abundance and scarcity, with regards to the mind, was explained by Stephen Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He described those with scarcity mentality as people who see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone gets a big slice of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

Most people, including those in science, academia and corporate world in general, are ingrained with scarcity mentality. Companies often pit staff against each other and in the advent of promotions, raises or recognition, people tend to put others down or hoard information that they perceive will give their competitors an edge over them. This is short term thinking and often useless in the long term.

Most people feel overwhelmed like an impostor when they start their PhD journey. It is important that they are given enough support and assigned someone who would take things slow and calmly explain things to them in the most simplified way. This is reassuring and let’s them know that everyone makes mistakes.

Mistakes compound your fear so the last thing they need is for supposed superiors to look down on them, talk to them condescendingly or assume that they have nothing important to offer. And this is where the abundance mentality comes in. An abundant thinker will be generous with his or her time and knowledge to help the newbie. Always remember that you were once a newbie like them so slow things down.

The newbie doesn’t need to hear you brag about your experiences or accolades. Switch the focus from yourself to them. Listening to your endless bragging will inadvertently make him or her more tense and scared about the journey ahead.

And to the newbie PhD student, I want you to know that this is just a phase and nothing is permanent. If you put in the effort, you’d grow in knowledge and become confident. Don’t be envious or jealous of others, those you think are ahead of you were once in your shoes so keep your head down and get to work.

PhD Chronicles: Part V

One of my best authors is Robert Greene. His debut book, The 48 Laws of Power, published in 1998, was described as ‘the psychopaths Bible’. Although these laws seem somewhat evil and narcissistic tools to manipulate others, however, if you actually take a critical look at these laws you would notice that some of them are things we do, consciously and unconsciously, on a daily basis.

Here are some of the laws in the Book:

Law 3: Conceal your intentions

Law 4: Always say less than necessary

Law 5: So much depends on your reputation; guard it with your life

Law 9: Win through actions; never through arguments

Law 10: Avoid the unhappy or unlucky

Law 12: Use selective honesty or generosity to disarm your ‘victim’

Law 16: Use absence to increase strength and honour

Law 17: Cultivate an air of unpredictability

Law 34: Be royal in your own fashion

Law 36: Disdain anything you can’t have; ignoring them is the best revenge

Law 40: Despise the free lunch

Take a look at the aforementioned laws. Have you ever practised or still practise any of the laws on the list? If I am to guess, I would say that the most likely answer is YES. This is because power is a natural phenomenon. Every human yearns for power and influence knowingly and unknowingly. Whether one accepts it or not is an entirely different story altogether.

Many believe that power corrupts but I beg to differ. I sincerely believe that power is liberating and allows you to freely express your authentic self that you may have been hiding for any reason. Unfortunately, power does not always result in positive circumstance. For so many people, their authentic self is tainted with an insatiable thirst to control, manipulate, abuse or get back at others.

Sirach 30:10-11 Has anyone ever known that he could get away with cheating someone, and not taken advantage of it. If so, he deserves his wealth, and everyone will praise him for his generosity.

This is why there’s a general misconception that power holders are inconsiderate dimwits who do not care about others but that isn’t true. And I say it all depends on the individual that yields the power.

I have previously written about my struggles with the impostor syndrome during the early stages of this journey. At the time, I felt powerless and as a consequence, most of the people I resorted to for help looked down on me. And I sincerely understand. Power and powerlessness affect our perception of others.

Power is a great mechanism in changing of behaviour. Power comes along with confidence, assertiveness, courage, quick decision making and increased hormonal levels (high testosterone level and low cortisol (stress hormone) level). However, being powerless makes you second-guess yourself, seek external validation from others and instils fear that stops you from going after what you really want and need.

The fact that power can bring about a change in one’s behaviour is the reason why I encourage everyone to seek power via knowledge for knowledge is power. You don’t have to be a bookworm but you MUST love knowledge in order to acquire it. And the simplest way to do this is by mere observation of things and people around you, and experimentation as Alex Ferguson said in his book, Leading, “there’s a reason God gave us two ears, two eyes and one mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 9:16 Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

Ignorance and curiosity drive scientific research but the at the end of the day, we acquire knowledge that can transform the world. However, how this knowledge is framed to the public is important. If it is presented in a negative, aggressive or condescending manner, knowledge loses its power. As a result, scientists have to allow the public to mirror scientific information against their personal beliefs by showing them how science belongs to them and how they belong to science. That way knowledge becomes powerful and can be worth its weight in gold.

PhD Chronicles: Part IV

Growing up, I had this mindset that I didn’t have to toot my own horn for anyone to appreciate and understand my worth. It is either you see it or you don’t – your loss anyway. I was conditioned to believe that it is bragging and no one likes a braggart hence I talked less and did more.

However as I grow older, I have come to understand that I need to unlearn that. Self-aggrandisement is really key and crucial to your future achievements. You may be very special but you have to sell yourself to be recognised.

Sales is something we do everyday – be it a product, person, service or even an idea. We are always trying to sell ourselves to others to accept us. And this ability to sell and persuade others is linked to our innate understanding and definition of ourselves.

Selling yourself short is one of the reasons why your special attributes are not recognised by your potential employers and/or clients. Have you noticed that people who can talk or sell themselves very well whether they bullshit their way through a conversation or interview often land the best deals? He or she may be less talented or smarter than you but she understands something about social intelligence, which is selling yourself the right way.

This is where most intelligent people fall short. They often lack the courage and boldness that less intelligent people do. They often focus so much on themselves and forget that you have to be able to get the attention of your audience or prospective employers by selling yourself the right way.

You have to sell yourself the right way to open and get in the door first before anyone can be able to recognise and appreciate your worth. When you say ‘no’ to new opportunities or ideas that seem daunting, play down your own accomplishments, steer the conversation away from yourself or refuse to put yourself out there for whatever reason, you are inadvertently selling yourself short.

What this translates to whomever is listening to you is that you lack confidence, undervalue yourself and overvalue others, put up with things you shouldn’t and don’t demand respect. As a result, you’d end up in toxic relationships and have minimal experiences because experience is what separates the chaff from the wheat.

No one likes that person that goes on a monologue about their achievements. However, you’ve worked extremely hard to be where you are today so own your story and tell it with zest. Find a balance and design your life the way you really want it to be. Be self aware to identify your weaknesses but focus on challenging and mastering yourself so that you can project yourself to a whole new level.

PhD Chronicles: Part III

“Hello there! The angel from my nightmare”

It’s been a while since my last post. One has been busy with science and life – I sincerely apologise for this sojourn. Although, I am happy to say that whilst away, I made huge steps in my PhD program with interesting data.

I have also been opportune to present these data at a number of conferences as well however my first presentation is the one that sticks out for me. It was last year, to the MSc Biomedical Science cohort. One of the students asked me afterwards, Why did you decide to do a PhD? and what are your plans after the program?

These questions got me thinking about different things at the same time. Although I have always had a concrete plan about my life goals since I was 20, it took the preaching of a lecturer to convince me PhD was worth my time when I was at their stage as I’ve never seen myself going down the Professor route (but hey! never say never).

So when I was asked these questions, I was filled with some doubts about the whole process and I had to break my reverie to remind myself the reason(s) why I decided to plough this spiked road. These reasons are myriad that I can’t put them in words here.

However, if your aim of wanting a PhD is for family pride/honour, societal respect and gratification, and status symbol, I am here to tell you that it isn’t worth it. I must admit that in the “third world” like Africa, a PhD degree can propel you to greater heights and open doors for you especially if your aim is to be a powerhouse in politics or your chosen field. However, I believe that you can achieve great things without it.

This is not me trying to discourage anyone from getting a doctorate but letting you know that it will test you in different ways. For example, I am (naturally) an impatient person. I dream about things, plan them and hope everything goes according to any of the plans I’ve set in motion. However, things rarely go according to plan in the lab and life in general, and this can lead to frustration and depression.

As a result, this journey is not necessarily about intelligence nor hard work but patience, persistence and flexibility. It teaches you that patience is a virtue and impatience is not a vice but can be harnessed in the right way.

PhD equips you with a lot of transferable skills that can help you in any sector you decide to go into. A colleague once said, “the good thing about science is that a scientist can work in any field.” I am getting to that stage where I have to repeatedly ask myself what I want to do next – politics, business, academia, industry, research?

Whatever I decide to do next, this phd journey has tremendously helped me to learn, re-learn and unlearn a lot of things about myself and life in general. Prior to now, I liked to tell people negative stories about myself than positive stories and this was for a reason. Sometimes, I even act dumb and naive.

The reason why I do these things is because being a naturally observant person, I found out at a young age that we are all narcissistic to some extent. People feel better when they think they are better than you so I found it easier to read and understand them this way. However, doing this phd exposed me to a lot of experiences that made me realise this was more detrimental to my mental health and sense of self.

Our minds are our gateway to success, happiness and sense of accomplishment. The way you see yourself regardless of external opinions, perceptions about problems or undesirable circumstances and reactions to things beyond your control have an ample effect on our end products.

PhD Chronicles: Part II

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It is often said that scientists are all serious, intelligent and no fun but I beg to differ. I love to laugh and have a good time. A friend once told me, ‘I am not sure you’d stay in science after this. You are always happy…scientists are often doom and gloom.’

I do understand why many feel this way. Scientists sometimes over-complicate things in an attempt to display their intelligence. Some write and talk in a certain way that confuses the general public with their use of ambiguous words but in reality Emeka, Funke and Musa can’t be bothered at all. This makes them come off as condescending; ‘shoving’ their opinions down on people’s throats (peep the Climate change debate).

However, science does not have to be boring. It can be simplified and infused into so many things, especially arts – music. This will impact the lives of the target audience for the better. If you want people to understand things like climate change, infuse it into things that will impact their lives – not necessarily scare them. We lose the audience when we try to get too technical and complex.

No one likes a ‘know it all’ and you do not have to talk like a genius to be seen as intelligent. In fact, you portray your ingenuity when you keep things simple. Problem-solving is an integral part of science as things do not go according to plan most of the time. Sometimes, you have to improvise and end up solving the most difficult problems with the simplest solutions.

Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.” C. W. Ceran

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” – Albert Einstein

Most of the world’s most difficult problems have been solved with the simplest solutions. For example, erectile dysfunction was solved by a simple solution called Viagra, which was initially intended to solve cardiovascular issues. Instead, the men ended up with longstanding erections.

Due to this reason, I try as much as possible to work hard and definitely play harder via music. We are all in pursuit of happiness so it is important to enjoy every bit of the process. Just like Albert Einstein, unarguably the world’s most famous scientist that ever lived, I see my life in terms of music and live my daydreams in music.

I must admit that my taste in music is quite different from that of Einstein. He was more into violin and classical music, which have been linked to better concentration and meditation. He was able to exhibit the synergies between science and music. This inspired the creation of the Oxford May Music festival, an event that showcases the link between both worlds.

How do we expect to solve the world’s health and scientific problems by living a ‘secluded’ life surrounded by like minds? The simplest solutions we seek are out there so go out, expose yourself to different worlds and have fun with different kinds of people. Then go back to the lab and try to imbibe these experiences into your science and its communication. That way, our work will be more beneficial to the general public.