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.

Overthinking kills

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As humans, we think all the time, consciously and subconsciously. Thinking is a wonderful tool for education. It helps us generate information that can motivate and inspire us.

However, sometimes we get stuck worrying about something that happened or something that will happen. Some are constantly worrying about posting the perfect picture on social media, analyzing people’s statuses, spend much time thinking about to tweet or wondering why someone just unfollowed them on Instagram.

We all over-think in one way or another. Whether it is general worries about the future, self-worth, decisions or regrets, we are often overwhelmed by our own thoughts as we try to analyse our steps from every angle imaginable.

As we over-think, we become stuck in our heads; we fear being wrong. We become rooted in fear, doubt and uncertainty. The human mind abhors uncertainty.

Uncertainty implies danger so we try to take cover and protect ourselves. Over-thinking often comes with paranoia. Everything seems more dangerous than it actually is.

For instance, you have a crush on someone but you are afraid to make the move because you are uncertain of what his/her response would be. So you over-think approaching the person and making your feelings known and in the end, convince yourself it is best not to say anything.

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Also, when one is diagnosed with certain ailments or has certain symptoms, s/he over-thinks and believes the wall is closing in on him/her. One fears the uncertainty surrounding his/her future because of the sickness. As a result, over-thinking kills faster than the sickness itself.

When we over-think, we focus on what if instead of what is and this can have  a devastating effect on our health. We become engrossed in our own thoughts and emotions that we zone out and become numb to people, places, and things around us. We lose our identity; we forget who we are.

Knowledge is a wonderful tool but too much of it can make one over-think and paranoid. When faced with difficult decisions, we try to acquire information from our environment, friends and family. We generate many possible solutions to a particular problem that we succumb to over-thinking.

Over-thinking gets you nowhere. It can kill your happiness. If you are over-thinking an experience, limiting the number of people you talk with can help you think soundly. The best thing you can do if/when you over-think is take action and take a step forward.

Everybody is going to over-think and over-analyse once in a while but it is best to minimise these thoughts and make them productive.

Are you an over-thinker?

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