Phd. Candidate, NTNU Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience Molacular Biology and Genetics
As a PhD candidate you have more freedom than any other employees. You have your own project and you can entirely plan your day accordingly. Because of that, none of the days resemble each other. You may have been dealing with problems regarding your experiments for days or you are celebrating your small achievements that will cause big excitement every single time.
Before applying any PhD position, you should be aware of what exactly the place you are interested in is working on. How is your background overlapping with the particular job? How enthusiastic are you for that job? I, myself, chose a certain direction of interest before going any further. I increased my knowledge and expertise in that desired field. I have learned a lot of high techniques in which I knew that I would be asked for in the desired PhD positions that I had been looking at. Then, I only aimed for those jobs where I already had intense background and clear ambitions, which makes me an attractive candidate among hundreds of other applicants.
My bachelor is in Molecular Biology and Genetics. Even though I enjoyed studying small molecules, complicated pathways, how a cell works and affects hundreds of others in a close proximity, I always wanted to learn more about the system level. What basically happens in the big picture? Therefore, I switched to neuroscience to learn more about how the brain works. In particular, how the senses perceive in the brain. The brain is a magical place to get lost in, the more you learn, the more ambitious you become. Your hunger increases for the unknown. Therefore, I am currently performing my research on system neuroscience, which studies neural networks that form the higher brain function. Undoubtedly, what I learned on my bachelor helped me to understand easily and made me passionate about whole other fields.
Yes. After I finished my bachelor, I wanted to learn new techniques that would make me an attractive candidate at the job market. Because there are a lot of good students out there, and in order to be a step ahead you need to work on building up your background. Internship is a good way of doing that. I also have done 2 summer internships during my bachelor.
Yes. In my case, the employers that I had were my former supervisors, and I certainly kept my contact with them all the time. In science, you may always need to consult someone who you trust his/her expertise. This could sometime save lots of time. Moreover, if you share the same interest you can always have a collaboration with your previous mentors. For me, I do not only get in touch with them regarding the problems that I have encountered with or achievements that I had in my current research, but also call them for their birthday, Christmas, etc.
The transition for me was as smooth as it could be. Because, as a PhD candidate I still count myself partly student. But I think most significant difference is when you are a student, you only have responsibility to yourself. However, being an employee brings you a whole other level of responsibility to the third person. I can admit that I do like being where I am now. Studying for the exams, dealing with all those assignment's deadlines slightly restrict the life, and productivity. On the contrary, you focus more on what you really want to do when you are an employee (at least for me ☺).
As a neuroscientist, we have limited options for where we can be and what we can do! Most of us will not be able to have a steady job until age 35-40. Neuroscience is a shining area, and therefore competition is incredibly high. Your success in every single step (master/PhD/Postdoc) will define your future career path. I already proved myself as a good PhD candidate by being accepted to one of the best institutes in its field. Regarding my future career, I hope it will lead me to open my own lab with my own research question and students to supervise.
Don't take any job you can find, take the job you really want. Be aware of all the other candidates that might have the same background as you, if you are ambitious and enthusiastic enough you will be one step further. And last but not least, be an enterprising, self-confident and humble person.