Expect the Unexpected!

The first six months of a PhD is a whirlwind of information, literature exploration, and meticulous planning. There are gaps to be identified, challenges to overcome, and design of experiments to propose. As I embarked on this academic journey, it was clear that a well-crafted plan would be necessary and would become the guiding compass throughout my project.

This compass will guide you to the end goal but there are many obstacles and hurdles along the way. I am at the University of Twente in The Netherlands and in Dutch there is a saying that goes: “Ik zie beren op de weg” which translates to “I see bears on the road”. It means that you can see future problems or difficulties in a certain project or plan. I wish every problem and obstacle that I will face will be as obvious and glaring as a bear on the road along your journey! But alas, they are not, and many of the problems and obstacles you will face will not be so obvious. There are so many factors that one has to consider when planning a project of this size and expecting the unexpected is a wise approach.

Yellowstone National Park bear  - June 2018
Photo by Tony Garcia on Unsplash

Like many PhDs before me, the first step in my project was diving into a literature review on my topic of the Laser Induced Forward Transfer (LIFT) of biomedical multi-materials and establishing my research question. I thought of many ideas for my research question and began to look at the drafting experiments based on my findings. There was however, one task, arguably the most important, that I need to complete before I could begin: rebuilding the LIFT setup that I will utilize throughout my PhD project. I knew this from the onset of my project, and I planned for this task accordingly.

As I began this undertaking, I ran into more obstacles and hurdles than I originally expected. Some of them seemed so obvious that looking back at my original planning, I could not believe I overlooked the mistake. It opened my eyes to the reality that being flexible in a PhD is crucial because research most often involves unexpected challenges. It is part of the learning process and being adaptable allows you to navigate uncertain terrain. Changing your methodological approach, thinking of alternative solutions or approaches will ultimately sharpen your technical skills and allow you to think and problem solve in ways you have not in the past.

I am glad that I figured this out at the beginning of my journey and can adjust my mindset going forward. I was able to overcome the challenges that I faced with this task, and it has made me a stronger researcher. I learned that adaptability is crucial to ensure progress of your research and helps you overcome setbacks throughout your project. It is a key to success and growth. A flexible mindset can foster the capacity to explore uncharted waters and gain meaningful understanding. The dynamic nature of research demands this open-minded approach which can respond adeptly to the unexpected and capitalize on unforeseen opportunities.

By Daniel Sidney

Daniel Sidney is ESR8. His individual research project is "Laser micro-printing of biomedical multi-materials (biopolymers and metals)".