Welcome to the research world! - How I started my PhD Journey

Yes, a research-based degree  that delves and cultivates understanding of a subject in a field, with the aim to contribute to a new knowledge.
 I think that's how we describe the bigger picture of it. It is the highest degree that you can pursue by focusing on a problem, issue, or situation in a subject and solving them or proposing a better solution through research. That is why it takes 3-4 years which seems like an adequate time to master the knowledge of a subject inside out, identify the problem, test your idea and argue them at the end of your research in order to qualify that Doctorate degree.
My PhD journey started in early 2020. I was so excited when I got awarded the UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship. It was the greatest achievement that I have made in my entire academic journey. Also, I have always known that I want to do a PhD because of that big picture it presents. But hey, as excelling as it sounds, the research world nowadays is perceived as tough, competitive, hard to survive in, source of negative pressure on staffs/students, and many other related reasons I always hear for people to NOT do a PhD! Not only being in research is hard, getting into research is the hardest!
Well,  I am not going to sugar coat the way it works. In fact, you have to believe that the reason why you WANT to do a PhD is your ability to tackle those challenges and putting scholarly activities, science or whatever field you are passionate about as a priority. You have to have multiple strong reasons and support from your surrounding to justify your decision to enter a PhD. A least, that's how I go about it.
So far, my take on research is ->  Getting into and being in research are not easy and requires persistent hard work that takes time.
Here is proof which reminds me of my experience when I just graduated from my master's degree and I wanted to get into PhD straight away. Having a high interest, willingness to learn and scoring a high distinction in you previous studies are not enough to getting you into a PhD program. As an international student, you need to have at least one first author publication
Of course it will not be possible when you just graduated and you only worked in a research lab for a year. That whole challenge made me understand the worth of entering and choosing research as a main career field where you can excel, which is sure possible with persistence and time 👍
My Scientia PhD journey
Today, 3 years later, I have had an independent research experience in tissue engineering, plus the 2 years experience in childhood cancer as I was working at the Children's Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA). At the same time, my manager and I were working on getting the publication out with me as a first author. My previous supervisor was also working on few publications from the data that I collected in my master's thesis. It felt like a calling to me that she wanted me to apply for the prestigious UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship to work on the stem cells mechanoadaptation project which is still related to my previous tissue engineering work.  I was very excited but I tried to not have my hopes too high and keep a back up plan on what I can do to stay in research.   
The Scientia PhD Scholarship is different than the normal scholarship and supposedly "harder" to get. The amount per annum is almost double that the normal scholarship and on top of that another funding per annum to support your career goals and development. To be eligible, you first have to be nominated by the supervisor, and have to demonstrate some alignment in the advertised research field or project. In the application, apart from demonstrating your experience, capabilities, and a matched research interest, you also have to show that you have clear career goal and that you have plans to achieve this. The most important aspect of the application is demonstrating how your goals and plans are aligned with the UNSW 2025 strategies, the university's vision on improving academic excellence, social engagement, and global impact. Yes, that was sure quite a task. I still remember the feedback for my first version was that I needed to sound BOLD; My responses needed to be BOLD because the scholarship is BOLD and targets BOLD people. Well, yeah I transformed myself for a moment to be BOLDER!
After spending many nights on reading, writing my application and addressing reviewers' comments on my publication, I finally hear back about the acceptance for 2 of the papers; one was published together with a former PhD student in the group, and the other one is a protocol that I wrote during my master's thesis. With one more review paper coming and being closed to getting accepted, I was wrapped in a positive feeling. At around the same time, I was informed about the scholarship outcome. And yes, I was successful!
There it was, my moment finally arrived and soon I envisioned all the things that I could do with the scholarship and indeed it made me more confident and bolder! With this new opportunity, I t also meant that I had to let go the one I had. As the year 2019 ended, I wrapped up and stored the memories I had while working as a Research Assistant in CCIA. I owe that experience for teaching me what it takes to be a cancer researcher and a part of a big institute, which has basically been a stepping stone for me to enter the further research world. If you are keen to know more about what I do in my research assistant role, check out my blog post about My Job as a Research Assistant
I hope this post has given you a clearer picture about research life and has inspired you into entering the research career. In the next post, I will talk more about the things that I do as a PhD student 😄
See you next time!

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