From Desire to Determination: A Positive Mindset for PhD Success
Embarking on a PhD is a huge challenge that requires hard work, commitment, dedication and sacrifice. For life science PhD students, the journey can be full of ups and downs, with failed experiments and unexpected results often causing stresses, strains and crippling self-doubt for many. Developing a strong and determined mindset is crucial for combatting the challenges you will undoubtedly face on the path to your PhD. In this guest blog, Dr Abiola Isawumi of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), University of Ghana shares his advice and tips on maintaining a positive mindset for PhD success.
Every PhD journey is different and success will come in different forms for each participant. For some, it's a challenging game to win; for others, it feels like a hard nut to crack or a burdensome exercise with improbable rules. For a select few, it might come down to pure luck. Whatever your experience so far, never forget that success is possible and can even be easy for a mind willing to accomplish anything. Willingness alone however is not sufficient for a successful science PhD journey, and commitment is required if success is to be realized.
The finest definition of success I am aware of is ‘doing the right thing in the right way’ and taking little, consistent strides ahead, regardless of the odds. Success in science research will always involve multiple failed experiments, rejected manuscripts and declined grant applications. Although the odds are often against us, we must continue in the knowledge that each small step is another towards our scientific career goals. We learn from every setback, and PhD success involves closing the growth gap by transiting from merely ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’. That ability to bridge the knowledge-to-action gap is critical to success.
In this piece, I will focus on positive mindset strategies for achieving success in PhD endeavors.
See and think differently
First, be holistic in your approach to research success. This means that your philosophy shouldn't be too crass – don’t adopt an overly crude success mindset. It’s important to challenge your thinking. The failure of others does not lessen your prospects of success, eg. if similar projects in your lab have failed, or colleagues have faced the same difficulties before you, don’t assume that your outcomes will be the same as theirs. Stand out from the crowd as the best brand of yourself. Don’t allow emotional pressure to cloud your judgment; see and think differently.
Success is relative - define it correctly
In a sense, success is a personal matter – define it correctly as you intend to achieve your research and academic goals. Learn from those around you, but don’t use someone else's scale to measure your success. What many refer to as advancement is only relative to their project or outlined objectives. Your own PhD path and experiences are unique, as is your journey. Don't sprint like a deer if you're actually an elephant; understand your personal strengths and leverage all available help. Success takes time so be sure to manage yours well. Science research cannot be rushed, and experiments that are hurried will often be filled with mistakes. The same goes for your PhD. Take the time to consider all eventualities, and you will realize your goals.
Practise positive self-talk
Keep your approach to success simple. Don’t be too rigid in your outlook, and leave yourself a margin for reality and change. No matter what you have gone through, be optimistic despite your experiences. Avoid being overconfident and don't be afraid because success comes to those with brave minds. Be the best version of yourself as you build a research career and achieve your dreams. Be courageous and avoid being overly strict with yourself. Science experiments won’t always yield the results you are hoping for, so learn from these setbacks and forge ahead, keeping the bigger picture in view. Motivate yourself with kindness, and use words that will keep you thinking positively, avoiding discouraging words and negative talk. In my dictionary, there are no such words as failure, impossibility, disappointment, discouragement, lack or limitation. Avoid these words when talking or thinking about yourself and your research work. There are no losses, only lessons.
Here are my four simple reality checks to keep you in the right mindset for success:
1. Decide what you want - DESIRE
Desire is the drive for excellence. To obtain your desire; first, you have to truly understand what it is. Let your desire be guided by informed knowledge and driven by healthy ideals – more of your character is revealed through your desire. Don’t lose sight of your goals irrespective of the circumstances.
2. Follow your desire - ACTION
To fulfill your research objectives, you must take smart and deliberate steps. Success comes from doing rather than contemplating. Act on your desires by making a list of relevant skills you'll need to attain your PhD goals, and then organize yourself to get the training you'll need. Approach lab colleagues or mentors for advice and find out what help and resources are available to support you for the development of your science career. Science knowledge is passed down from generation to generation of researchers, and it is the job of a science mentor to ensure you have the support and help you need to succeed. Being deliberate with these actions is necessary for PhD success. Make a proactive and intentional decision to pursue your dreams with purpose at every step and never forget why you started.
3. Determine what works & what doesn’t - EVALUATION
Set time aside to evaluate the actions you’re taking while you pursue your goals. It helps to understand how far you have progressed towards your objectives. If you are improving, be consistent; if not, make the necessary changes. Examine your strategies on a daily basis and implement new tactics as needed. Keep moving - whether it’s a crawl or a run doesn’t matter, just don’t be stagnant.
4. Don’t give up - DETERMINATION
Keep pushing until you achieve your dream. Don’t entertain discouragements and never settle for alternatives too easily. In any science research career, challenges will be frequent, and overcoming them requires extraordinary tenacity. Keep your head high and don’t lose the fight in you – success is assured if you don’t give up!
About the author
Abiola Isawumi has a PhD in Molecular Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases and is currently a Research Fellow and Faculty at WACCBIP investigating the antimicrobial resistance (AMR) mechanisms of common and novel superbugs (ESKAPE pathogens) prevalent and diversely distributed in hospital environments. Read our interview with Abiola here, and take a look at his article on resilience and success!
More PhD advice on the Hello Bio blog
If you’re looking for more advice and support during your PhD, why not take a look at these other great articles on our blog:
- The Life Scientists' Guide for New PhD Students
- The Science PhD Survival Pack
- Taking Positive Steps Towards PhD Success - guest blog by Samuel Dada
- The Most Common PhD Problems & How to Get Past Them - guest blog by Lizzie Mann
- The Recipe for Sweet PhD Success - Part 1 - guest blog by Dr Noelia D Falcon
- The Recipe for Sweet PhD Success - Part 2 - guest blog by Dr Noelia D Falcon
- From PhD to Parliament: What I've Learned Since Finishing My Science PhD - guest blog by Dr Sophie Millar
- Growing Up in Academia: My PhD Story - guest blog by Gemma Lamp
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