Hi! My name is Chris Pattison, and I recently completed my PhD in Cosmology (or “space science, like Sheldon Cooper” as my parents call it) at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. My research was focused on early universe physics, and I studied the Universe a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. At this time the Universe underwent a period of accelerated expansion known as “cosmic inflation” and the Universe got very big, very quickly (the Universe has roughly expanded by the same order of magnitude in the 13 billion years since the end of inflation as it did in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang). I was particularly interested in how quantum mechanical effects during this period of inflation can affect the production of black holes in the early universe. This was a very theoretical PhD, and most of my days were spent working on maths and physics with a pen and paper, writing code and working on papers.
I am just finishing a short term post-doc at the University of Portsmouth in the same research group I did my PhD in. This allowed me to do some furher research in the same area as my PhD. It also helped me to realise that academia is not something I want to do long-term – I love science and science research, but I don’t think I am built for research in the long-term! I am particularly interested in science communication and science education; I am currently working as a freelancer within an online educational platform, producing online science education content.
I only finished my PhD a few months ago at the time of writing this, but I hope so! Whatever my long-term career ends up being, I think the love of science that I was able to nurture during my PhD will shape my trajectory greatly, and I expect having a PhD will open up many opportunities in my career. Having a PhD proves your commitment to your subject and highlights your skills as a learner; this helps me sell myself to potential employers. Working on my PhD enabled me to develop my communication skills, both written and verbal, through the collaborative process of writing papers and giving talks at seminars and conferences. This has had a huge impact on my developing career as it is a skill that is highly relevant and important within all job roles.
I think making sure you find a supervisor who you get along with and can imagine working with is much more important than the reputation of the university you are considering. If you go to a very prestigious university but never see your advisor and can’t ever get hold of them, then you might struggle to enjoy your time. Of course, this is a personal choice, but I think finding an advisor that you can work well with and communicate easily with is the most important thing. Often you can steer the research into the areas that you find most interesting, but you can’t often steer your supervisor into being a better mentor if they are no good!
The other thing is to do your best to maintain some time away from your PhD, doing your hobbies and spending time with people outside of your PhD. For me, this involved spending time with my partner, playing Nintendo games, and seeing lots of musicals!
Use this time to evaluate where you want your journey to go next as well as finding time to celebrate everything you have already achieved!
One highlight of my PhD was the excitement the first time seeing my name on a paper. It’s very fun to have something real that is all about the science you have spent a long time working on, and the first time is probably the most exciting. Travel opportunities are also a highlight of doing a PhD, and during my time as a PhD student I got to travel to Italy, Germany, South Korea, France, and all over the UK. All of these were excellent experiences and talking at international conferences is nerve-wracking but a great thing to do! I also love knowing that I submitted and defended my PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic, because it feels like I have managed to achieve something important during this strange time!
Having said all this, my favourite take-away from my PhD is the people I met along the way. You have the opportunity to interact with people from a ll over the world who are as passionate about your subject as you are, and you meet a lot of amazing people. For me, I had the pleasure of doing my PhD alongside some of the best people I could have hoped for, and so the chance to meet them all has to be my favourite memory of my PhD.
Follow him on Twitter and check out the video from his YouTube channel explaining what a PhD is using the links below: