A light bulb moment: sudden enlightenment

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After I had completed my first (Bachelor’s) degree, I decided that I would like to apply to become a doctoral (PhD) student. In order to do this in the UK (and elsewhere) it is necessary to enlist a supervisor, an academic who guides you through the process of researching and writing a doctoral thesis.

I knew roughly in which field I wished to pursue my further studies. Someone in Cambridge was looking for a PhD student to work on something that sounded interesting to me. So, I visited the academic in Cambridge. First of all, I was not particularly keen on the man’s personality (albeit having only met him once) and also the project he was offering seemed far too difficult for me, way beyond my ability. 

After the Cambridge episode, I discovered that the Imperial Cancer research institute was offering amazingly generous scholarships for PhD stuents working in their laboratories. I applied, choosing two of the projects that seemed to be in harmony with my interests, and received an offer of interviews at the institute in Lincolns Inn Fields.

At the first interview, I was introduced to the eight or so members of the team i was applying to join. They sat around whilst the senior members of the team interviewed me. It did not take me long to feel uneasy about my future colleagues, and as the questioning continued I could not wait for it to end. Near the end of the session I was asked if I was interested in cancer. In an attempt to cut short the proceedings, I answered that I was uninterested in that subject. 

After an equally unpromising interview with another of the research groups that I had applied to join, I left the building and began walking across Lincolns Inn Fields, feeling relieved that the interviewing ordeal was over. It was then that an important tought entered my head.

A PhD takes about (or at least) three years to complete. During that time, I would have to work in a laboratory with the rest of a research team and in regular contact with my supervisor. I realised while walking in Lincolns Inn Fields that it would be important for me that I enjoyed the people with whom I would be working. A pleasant environment was more important for me than the precise nature of the research topic.

I returned to University College, having made the decision to ask Professor Robert Harkness, whom I liked and whose research interests attracted me, whether he would take me on as a PhD student. To my great delight, he accepted me. As one of his doctoral students, I spent a very happy three and a bit years working in his laboratory with his other researchers, all of whom were friendly and helpful.

Since that day in Lincolns Inn Fields and my ‘light bulb moment’, which happened there, I have attended other interviews (for positions in various dental practices). At each occasion, I have asked myself: would I feel happy working five days a week with the person(s) interviewing me? If I have not felt the right ‘vibes’ at the interview, I have always turned down the job however attractive it seemed. On only one occasion, I have been mistaken with that approach, which I was fortunate to have been able to take when looking for work.

PHD on arrival

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A few years ago, the new airport at Devanahalli just north of Bangalore (Bengaluru) was opened for use. It was already too small when it opened and in recent years there has been much new construction to more than double its size and passenger handling capacity. 

On arrival passengers from some flights enter the airport by airbridges that connect the aeroplanes to the terminal building. Passengers proceed up escalators to the first floor where they walk along a gallery overlooking the departure lounge. We have spent many hours in the departure lounges awaiting the departures of flights which often depart in the dark early hours of the early morning. For a few years, there used to be a branch of the Pizza Hut chain available for passengers awaiting departure.

One year, I was truly surprised to reach the gallery overlooking the departure lounge because there was a large sign above the Pizza Hut counter, which bore the letters ‘PHD’. What, I wondered connected the Pizza Hut with the academic degree of Doctorate of Philosophy (‘PhD’)? ‘Surely some mistake’, as the British satirical magazine Private Eye often says.

Very soon I learnt that according to Pizza Hut, PHD stood for ‘Pizza Home Delivery’. Sadly, the Pizza Hut outlet has long since closed. It has been replaced by costlier eateries hoping for wealthy foreign travellers.

 

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