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Advice and support for your academic journey.

Ever spent years in a degree you were not happy with? This PhD student has, and she advocates for being brave enough to choose personal fulfilment over societal expectations and conventional timelines. In this article, she shares her breakthrough in changing academic direction to a path that better aligns with her passions, and offers empowering words to others who may be in a similar situation.

Coasting Through School

Never did I imagine I’d be uttering these words: “Yeah, I’m currently doing my PhD”. As a high school student, I coasted through without ever opening a textbook, relying solely on my ability to excel without much effort. Little did I know, this mindset would prove to be my greatest challenge in the transition to university life. 
In high school, I loved science, particularly biology, despite scoring higher grades in chemistry. Due to those higher grades, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a decision that would soon unravel my realization that this degree was not for me.

Drowning at University

My parents were bursting with pride as their only daughter set off for the UK to pursue higher education. However, my excitement soon turned to struggle during my first year. I found myself drowning in the complexities of Quantum Mechanics and Physical Chemistry, unable to grasp the lectures or keep up with the workload. Then the bell really rang: Chemistry was not what I wanted to pursue as a career. 
Faced with the dilemma of disappointing my parents, I soldiered on, attempting to work on my study habits. Soon, first-year failure came. I repeated the year, but this persistence took a toll on my mental health. In my second year as a Chemistry student, and third year living abroad, my grades improved but my spirit was diminished. Calmly, I made the call to my parents, confessing that the path that I was on became more of a struggle than an exciting journey.

Changing Programs: A Fresh Start

Leaving the UK was an emotional rollercoaster, while the academic journey hadn’t been my fit, the friendships I had made it bittersweet. Returning to Cyprus was a challenge, as the distance from friends abroad weighed on me. However, a silver lining appeared in the form of a promising program at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, in Human biology. 
The program not only allowed me to progress to the second year with exemptions from my UK courses, but also ignited a renewed sense of purpose. It was a fresh start, and a chance to pursue a path more aligned with my passions. 
Leaving the comfort zone of the familiar, I discovered newfound strength and resilience. The friendships from the UK, through physically distant, became a source of support. Not Only those, but the new and old friendships in Cyprus precipitated further encouragement and provided a nurturing environment in which I could rebuild my academic journey.

Embracing Growth, Resilience and Opportunities

Determined to reshape my academic experience, I embraced a newfound sense of organization, I bid farewell to procrastination, and created a meticulously crafted daily task list, that not only involved university work, but also extracurricular hobbies, hitting the gym and playing tennis. Active participation in lectures became my norm, and I immersed myself in all things Biology. Fuelling my passion, I sought science communication opportunities, eagerly engaging in different activities. These ranged from lively discussions with professors to seizing chances to present my work on Covid-19 at seminars. Soon, I found myself deeply involved in organizing committees for science consortiums and societies. 
A pivotal moment occurred when I began imparting knowledge to high school students through mini teaching sessions through information days. Covering topics like obesity, DNA extraction experiments, and captivating laboratory demonstrations, I discovered the joy of communicating complex biological concepts in accessible ways. Through persistent efforts and genuine enthusiasm for Biology, I witnessed a remarkable turnaround in my academic performance at the university. 
As my academic achievements flourished, I set my sights on a master’s degree in Molecular Medicine at the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics. This decision marked a significant leap forward in my academic journey. During this period, my exploration of Molecular Medicine unveiled my fascination for neuroscience. My aspirations were fuelled by the intriguing structure of the brain, the potential for groundbreaking discoveries and the prospect of contributing to the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Pursuing Personal Fulfilment Over Expectations

In the flow of my academic journey, an opportunity emerged – a PhD topic that resonated with what I loved. What made it even more enticing was the prospect of working with the same amazing team and supervisor that I had come to admire during my time as an MSc student. The decision to apply for this opportunity marked a turning point for my academic career. The path to securing my spot in this PhD program is a narrative that deserves its own space, a journey filled with challenges, triumphs, anxiety attacks and the belief in the pursuit of personal fulfilment. Perhaps that tale will find its way in some other article.

The essence of sharing my story with you lies in this message: No matter the social pressures or the expectations that come from your circle, the key is to prioritize your happiness. It’s easy to get drowned by the negatives, as I initially did, contemplating the what-ifs and societal timelines. Reflecting on my journey, there are moments when I’m still disappointed in myself, for not persevering through and completing that Chemistry degree. The external voices suggesting I should have stayed for one more year or questioning my choice to continue studying at my age have been hard to ignore.

Yet, in those moments, I anchor myself to the knowledge that choosing happiness over societal expectations was the right path for me. Each step, even the detours, has led me closer to a fulfilling and purpose-driven academic pursuit. The decision to follow my passion for Biology and Neuroscience, to seek joy in my academic endeavours, has been my compass.

Final Thoughts

So, to those navigating similar crossroads, my advice is simple: do what makes you happy. Embrace the journey, even if it deviates from the conventional timeline. The pursuit of personal fulfilment is timeless, and the chapters you write along the way will be uniquely yours.

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All views expressed are those of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of The PhD Place Ltd.
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