Rosanna Rahman did not treat her PhD as a 9 to 5 job. Her working day lasted more like 12 hours, with few weekends off. Such was her determination to complete her thesis within a three-year time frame.
She declined distractions such as teaching positions, arguing that in the long run, “The time devoted to demonstrating can push your PhD into a fourth, fifth or sixth year, and the money made from teaching doesn’t cover the additional tuition fees and living expenses, you end up losing far more money than you gain.”
It was a “grilling degree”, Rosanna says, and looking back, wishes she’d taken a break between finishing her PhD and starting her next position. “I was pretty burned out. It took a while to recover.”
Given the huge demands a PhD poses, Rosanna has one overwhelming piece of advice to PhD students to ensure the efficient completion of their project: “Write. Write. Write.”
Rosanna was exploring whether catechins, a compound found in green tea, was effective as an acute treatment for stroke patients. “I started researching and writing my introduction from the first day of my PhD and, as soon as I finished an experiment, I wrote it up. It meant that at the end of the PhD, I didn’t go through that crazy, crippling time I saw many other students go through. I basically compiled everything together, tidied it up and handed it in.”
Rosanna explains that writing early and writing often is more than a time management technique, but a great boost to the quality of the thesis. “Your understanding of your topic increases exponentially when you write. So if you are writing from early on, you become smarter sooner in the process, and you can apply that knowledge to the rest of the PhD.”
She adds that in her research group, students would routinely contribute to one another’s papers, “even just a few paragraphs”. It was a practice that at once got students writing, familiarised them with the process of publishing, and ensured a very productive department.
Now, as a research scientist at Harvard Medical School, she points out that academia, “only gets more competitive”. Her tip: “Apply for any grant or scholarship you can. Even if it’s just a $500 travel grant. Employers want to see that you have a track record of securing funding, and there may not be too many other opportunities to demonstrate this during your PhD.”