Chapter 6: One more step

One of my all-time favourite scenes from the Lord of the Rings films happens early in the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring. Sam and Frodo are leaving the shire and Sam stops and points out that if he takes one more step it will be the furthest away from home he has ever been. It’s a small moment but a fantastic representation of a very relatable feeling; stepping out into the unknown, into a situation you feel you are not ready to handle and aren’t prepared for. You may be wondering why one earth, or why on middle earth, (terrible joke I know, but I couldn’t resist) I am talking about this scene.

As part of my training on the CDT I was required to undertake two training projects before starting my full project. Two weeks ago, I finished my second training project and as of last week I officially started my main PhD research. It was at this point I experienced an overwhelming feeling of apprehension. Before I dive into that feeling any further I should provide some context and explain how my project came about.

In the CDT we don’t apply for a specific project. Instead we get the opportunity to help create and choose a project which interests us. To do this, a “PhD generation” event was held in London several months ago. It consisted of a large conference room with a mix of academic staff from the university, members of industry from various pharmaceutical companies and the 8 PhD students from my year. The academics were then divided into groups based on their area of expertise, and for the rest of the day we worked with the different groups to come up with ideas which people thought were intriguing and worth spending the next 3 ½ years researching.

From there the projects generated were taken to the higher ups - their official name is CDT management but higher ups sounds cooler. Then once the projects were fleshed out by academics and approved, we were given a list to choose the one which interested us most. Since it will take up more words than I feel like writing today I will give the “elevator pitch” version of my project: my aim is to develop a device (a biosensor) which we can stick in humans to continuously measure how much of a certain drug is in their blood. At some point I will actually do a post discussing the ins and outs of my project, I promise.

Back in the present, or at least last week, I met with my new supervisors and we sat down to come up with a more detailed outline of the project, discussing what we were hoping to achieve and how realistic we thought it was. After that meeting I went back to our office, sat down, and was overwhelmed by a flood of nervousness and anticipation. When trying to identify this feeling, what immediately sprung to mind was the scene from LOTR which I mentioned earlier (it took a while but I told you I’d get there eventually). It was a sense that I was about to step into something entirely new.

The more I thought about it the more I understood why I felt like this. I came to the realisation that in my relatively short academic career I have only ever worked on shorter projects that were driven by supervisors. Now with this project I am in control; the supervisors used the phrase “you will be leading this project.” Not only that but it will be significantly longer than any project I’ve done before (3 years 4 months, not that I’m counting). This was a very intimidating feeling, particularly for someone who feels like they still know very little about their subject area. On the other hand, and on a more positive note, I also feel a sense of excitement. Basically, I think I’m balanced between apprehension and excitement… and I can’t help but wonder how many other people have experienced this?

On that note, I think I have rambled enough about my emotional psyche. The plan for the next post is to discuss what biosensors are and why I like them so much. Until next time, this is Steve the scientist signing off.