My PhD in my words…

“In this blog post, Grant Campbell reflects on his PhD experiences just days after submitting his thesis”

Hi folks,

It has been ages since I wrote a post for Dirt Docs. Probably because I’ve been working very hard to get my PhD submitted which I did so last week at Cranfield University. Not going to lie, I was a whole raft of emotions once I submitted: relieved, delighted, anxious, ecstatic to pick just a number of superlatives. Before I go any further I must say a huge thanks to my supervisor Jack Hannam for the very cool pint of Thatcher’s Cider after I submitted! I definitely needed it! Now all I need to do now is to crack on and prepare for the anticipated, intense, viva examination and then (if successful!) move onto the next stage of my career. Oh and maybe write up a couple of papers too from my PhD journey!

I want to use this blog post to show some of the milestones I had on my journey and give the people reading this some tips going forward as to how to make the most of your PhD experience. I will refer back to some old posts I produced a while back and also reflect on some other things too. There were of course good times and not so good times, I am not going to paint a bed of roses with this. However, I do feel throughout the process of my PhD, I have evolved into a more confident person but also, I have picked up a lot of useful hard and soft skills that hopefully will help me with whatever I decide to do next. Here are some of my highlights:

  • First PhD conference (York, BSSS)

Probably my first PhD conference that I can say I had vivid memories of was at the British Society of Soil Science. I went along to the conference in York back in 2015 as this was seen ‘to provide a platform for early career researchers to present their work and network with their peers and colleagues.‘ I remember thinking back now how nervous I was mixing it up with students from a range of different universities and institutions, but I had a brilliant time now when I reflect back! I met some incredible friends that day and learnt a lot from it too. I can honestly say that the first conference you go to is a scary one. Daunting I would say but throw yourself out there. What have you got to lose?

  • First academic paper published

As a PhD student, I remember someone saying to me (think it was Professor Alex McBratney of University of Sydney) who said, ‘Publish or perish’. I am thrilled to have had one published paper out of my PhD so far and have had another one gone through the review system which I am currently making corrections to at present. It is great to have your work acknowledged in the academic domain – it makes you feel that the work you are doing is all worthwhile. I hope to produce more in the future. You definitely get a buzz from it! My advice on this would be to follow Alex’s advice and try to get at least one paper or more out of your PhD. It will get you noticed in academic circles and who knows, it could lead onto many other fantastic collaborations!!

  • First international conference (Wageningen, Holland, 2017)

One of the great highlights I remember from my PhD experience is the opportunity to go to my first international conference at Pedometrics in Wageningen, Holland. For me, this meant a lot as it was my first real time I had been abroad myself for starters! It was so fantastic to meet like-minded people on a worldwide scale who were and remain to be at the forefront of Digital Soil Mapping and soil-related activities. Some of these people I still interact with on social media even today. Without Wageningen, I would not have met these people so big thanks to those guys! I’ll never forget the dancing at Burger’s Zoo!!! If you get the opportunity to go on an international conference like I did, go for it! I had the brilliant opportunity of going to the Netherlands, but I know of others who have went to Brazil, Belgium and Canada to just name a few places! Grab it with both hands! You could go to places you never even dreamed about going!

  • Getting involved with Dirt Docs and BSSS – how social media helped keep my interests up!

One of the first things I really wanted to do when I started getting involved with a PhD is to get myself noticed out there. I was really glad to have met Olly Pritchard, Siobhan Gardiner, Tom Storr, Alex Cooke and Becky Whetton who got me into Dirt Doctors, a blog post site set up by Cranfield University PhD students. What I would really recommend to many PhD students is to document something once a week, even if it is a short blog post on what you might have done throughout the week or something that is interesting to you. It can directly, or indirectly be related to what you are doing as part of your PhD. It could be training or presentation you gave at a conference. It could be a short bio on a paper you have just got published! I felt writing blog posts really helped me train myself to write in an array of different styles in either an informal or formal context. Do it! Let your imagination drive you wild!!

  • Fieldwork opportunities

With my PhD research heavily involved in using computer-based modelling and data to produce soil property maps across GB, my opportunities to go out into the field were limited. However, I must acknowledge the massive thanks to staff and fellow PhD students at The James Hutton Institute who gave me the opportunity to do some soil sampling and mapping across Scotland! It was important to realise the work I was doing in the natural, dynamic environment. I can honestly say it was invaluable to my work and going forward I would recommend going out in the field, even if you are mainly desk-based for the majority of the work like I was. Who knows, you might pick up some ingenious ideas helping out fellow students or find a new perspective perhaps?

  • Submitting my PhD

At the end of the day, PhD students need to write a thesis! I last week submitted mine which I think was around 40,000 words and 196 pages long. My advice around this is right from the beginning make sure you document work as you go along. If its from literature, note the paper and put it towards maybe a literature review or equivalent writing chapter. I would also recommend making sure you have a suitable structure to your PhD. Make sure you have a GANTT chart set up right from the start. Work on it together with your supervision team, liaise with them as you go along, update them, recommend different suggestions if things take a different turn. Just make sure you stick to time though! Chat to fellow PhD students – discuss with them how they are feeling, how they approach things. You might pick up some ideas to use. Also, make sure you keep yourself motivated throughout. I had times where I thought I would never get there. Even the most positive of people sometimes find themselves staring into an abyss. I refer back to that great quote that Winston Churchill says…’if you’re going through hell, keep going’. I truly believe that., You will get there…and sometimes…it might dawn on you when you least expect it! Finally, my last piece of advice is a simple one really but one I did not do effectively sometimes…give yourself enough chill time. Hang out with friends and go and have a few pints (and a few Morgan Spiced Rums as I did!), spend quality time with family (as I tried to do throughout), give yourself rewards to aim towards (a holiday or a fancy meal out!). Just remember – You’re in control of your own destiny. You can do this.

I’m not saying all of these ideas and suggestions will work for you, but they did work for me on the whole. So good luck…and all the best.

You’ll be a Dr. soon…

Author: Grant Campbell

Twitter: @Stato_Grant