A few weeks ago I received an email from a colleague in the late hours of the night regarding a manuscript I am working on. Attached was a paper recently published by researchers overseas investigating an effect very similar to that which I am attempting to publish. Although my immediate reaction was one of panic I thought it best to neglect the paper at least until the following morning as I saw no point in jeopardising a night’s sleep. Alas the damage had been done and after a restless hour or so in bed it became evident that sleep was a remote possibility. I reluctantly began reading the paper.
Long story short, having read the paper I’m optimistic that my work still has something to offer and will hopefully still be published. However a visit to the researcher’s website invoked a second wave of anxiety. This particular researcher, who is now a postdoctoral fellow, had four first author publications and eleven publications in total prior to completing their PHD.
This is not a discussion of quantity versus quality; I just wanted to raise the perhaps bleeding obvious point that as PHD students who aspire to forge a career in research, we are inevitably competing against other PHD students for career opportunities. Thus the bar is determined by the hours put in and quality of work produced by the post-grad researchers in our respective fields.
As a relatively new PHD student this is something I’d, until recently, neglected to think about. I’ve been travelling along optimistic (naively?) that as long as I conduct good science and work hard the publications will come and opportunities will arise. Ultimately though, as hard as I may work, if those around me are working harder then I’m in trouble.
Having discussed this with my supervisors they are strongly of the opinion that 99.9% of my resources should be devoted to publishing papers and that time spent away from this endeavour carries with it a cost. Initially I scoffed at the idea that the little time I spend away from my research is detrimental. The more I think about it though the more I’m beginning to questioning whether I’ve struck the right balance between PHD work and additional work such as tutoring and RA-ing. I’m even questioning whether I should be writing this blog given this could be 400 words towards my manuscript...
The reality is that time is a precious commodity in this business and it would seem that to succeed it must be treated as such. So how do you strike the right balance in what in many ways seems to be a zero-sum game?