Writing a PhD thesis – “words of wisdom”

For those of you doing PhDs, whether your thesis submission is a few years away or a few months away, I thought I’d pass on some “wisdom” about the whole process (most of which is just how to avoid my mistakes…!) – from planning to mindset to little technical things. I read a lot of advice which sounded great but seemed very idealistic and sometimes just scared me – I’m hoping this is a bit more grounded and reassuring. Some of these tips may be broadly useful to other projects or pieces of academic work or writing, but it is quite focused on writing a PhD thesis, which I found a very different process to any previous academic writing  – partly just due to the length!


Genetics, epigenetics and DNA methylation – an intro (Part 1)

I’ve wanted to write an intro to “epigenetics” for a while, because when I was trying to learn about it for the first time, I found most things fell into two camps: either mainstream press with lots of hype but not much detail or jargon-filled explanations aimed at hardcore biologists with lots of prior genetics knowledge. As someone who started my PhD with little understanding of genetics, it took me quite a while to piece together information with enough detail to properly understand all the terms but not so much detail that my brain felt like melting. I wished there had been one resource which talked me through at least the basic ideas from start to finish, without assuming a tonne of knowledge beforehand – and so that’s the aim of this series of posts! For people new to genetics, this will be a crash course in all the key things to know. I will use some of the jargon so that you can learn the words, but try not to get bogged down in it – you don’t need to remember it all and I will try to explain everything as I go. Leave me a comment if I need to explain something further! For people familiar with genetics, this will probably cover a lot of old ground and you might want to just skim it then read the extra resources at the end!

So… let’s start with the hype!


The unspoken concept of “true scientists”

There is often this unspoken concept of the “true scientist” : the person who is wholly dedicated to their science. Science is all they talk about and they never take a day off. They eat, sleep, breathe science and it isn’t “work” for them because it’s their passion, their life’s mission. They’d never resent working late because it’s all they want to do. They’d move across the world to do their research – there’s no sacrifice too big to pursue their thirst for science. They’re also probably a white middle-class straight guy – but that’s a story for another blog post…

Now, I love doing psychiatric research – I frequently feel ridiculously lucky to get to do the work I do and genuinely can’t imagine a more rewarding or exciting career. And yes, I definitely get swept up in analysing new data or reading around an area that I want to try to get to the bottom of and I will happily spend an evening chatting away about my work. And yes, when necessary, work takes over and I don’t have space or time for much else (apologies to everyone I ignored during the last month of my PhD!). But, science isn’t my whole life – I spend a lot of time thinking about other things and doing other things!