Oct 23, 2017 | Yet another set of conclusions

This year I realized yet another few things about living the academic life. Hereby, I would like to mention just three of them. 

[1] Olymp

I guess most of the young researchers coming to the PhD, have a certain vision at the structure of academia on their minds. The belief is that, academia is like Olymp, were at the top of the mountain, over the clouds, gods are dining and celebrating for the whole eternity. Whereas in reality – as I realized only this year – there is no Olymp. Firstly, the higher up the more responsibilities and problems. Secondly, academia is a decentralized network, and those who found themselves far advanced in their academic career, are more and more tangled in a web of interpersonal dependencies rather than becoming free. Is this a good advertisement for the job? Probably not but still, there are plenty of enthusiasts of this profession. 

[2] The mindset of a PhD

What I also realized is that PhD is a hard job, but in a slightly different way than most fresh PhDs imagine. PhD is just balancing at the edge of insanity, so to speak. And this is because what you need is to have complete control over your own mind. Namely, you need to have a few completely contradictory qualities in order to become a successful researcher, and you need to be able to juggle these qualities at all times.  

On one hand, you need to be sociable and often hassle and present your research to the audience as broad as possible, plus manage students and other people around you. You need to be a little bit of a manager, and a little bit of a salesman. But on the other hand, you need to be able to completely focus on one task and be able to carry on doing just one thing for months, very often in complete isolation from others. Which means, you also need to be much of a specialist. Failing on each of the above can cause a failure in the academic career. Moreover, you need to be creative and a bit edgy so that you have enough charisma for others to remember you. So, you need to be a little bit of an artist. But at the same time, you need to follow the rules, be punctual, talk facts and try to fulfill other people’s expectations, which makes you a disciplined, clockwise machine. How to be the two at once? It is a very hard game to play every day. I am quite convinced that most of the energy spent on work by a PhD candidate is due to the constant trying to manage their own mind, and due to struggling with switches between all these modes – and not due to real organic work. 

[3] Parallel words

Lastly, what is a relatively recent discovery, I can see that there are parallel worlds in academia; environments who have their own culture, their own conferences, their own leaders and their own language. I have just come back from my first conference in psychiatric genetics, and I must say that I was surprised with how little this conference had in common with neuroimaging, although the main goal of both these disciplines is pretty much the same – to be able to understand the underpinnings of human behavior and the etiology of psychiatric disorders. Even more, there is an increasing number of projects taking on both imaging and genetics. This surprises me even more; there is just such a small degree of communication between the fields… I am wondering: is this because, at a certain level, people in academia specialize and no longer have time for a free exploration? Or maybe, it is some form of inertia; a slow process which takes much time more than expected? In the context of a PhD, I believe that this effect leads to a loss of opportunities, and therefore, a loss of human potential. Do you know about all these parallel academic worlds where you might live a much happier life? Probably not. This means that maybe, it is time for a bit of a mental trip through science. I am just preparing a project for a Hackathon that will take place in Warsaw in November, and in this project, we will aim to take just one concept (namely, functional connectivity, a very popular concept in neuroimaging) and investigate this research topic in a multidisciplinary way as it can be. What will come out of this? I do not know the answer to this question yet, but there is a chance for gaining some new insights into research subjects in other disciplines by applying the logic taken from straight brain science. Let us hope that some interesting conclusions will pop out during the event! 

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