by Bethan Rogoyski
The book Life of Pi describes the odyssey of a young man and his tiger trying to get home after capsizing at sea. Perhaps the parallels between this and the mission of obtaining a PhD are not immediately obvious. Yet many of us struggle to keep our heads above water having plunged headlong into the lifelong-companion-cum-daunting-monster that is a postgraduate research degree.
Click here to see Bethan’s illustration on her blog of what the Life of Sci book cover might look like
Both stories begin on a long mission to a better place. My personal mission was to prevent the asbestos related cancer ‘mesothelioma’, which currently has no cure and dismal survival prospects, by re-purposing affordable existing drugs. I began by testing hundreds of drugs, from aspirin to zinc, trying to identify one which obstructed mesothelioma growth, without inducing any unforeseen side-effects. Developing a new drug might have seemed the easier option, but even with the best technology can take up to 15 years and a billion-dollar budget.
Though initially setting out on an exciting mission to a better place, unexpected challenges quickly present themselves. Despite years of preparation, and having everything seemingly mapped out, a PhD never takes the course you expect. There are long phases of feeling in deep water, perhaps struggling against a tide of thesis chapters, or drowning in deadlines. Of course, they should soon resolve into stretches of plain-sailing, gathering results, presenting data, and making a real impact to society.
Over the four years of my PhD, I have battled long periods of repetitive nothingness – the calm before the storm, and of course that all-pervasive fear I’ll be forever lost in a sea of high-impact data. Daily repetition to no avail can be exhausting, but the first glimpse of something on the horizon, and you willingly double your efforts. As positive results slowly start to accumulate, and I become closer to identifying a drug that could be safely translated to clinic, I again share my sentiments with Pi; there is hope that my efforts may yet reach civilisation.
About the Author
Bethan Rogoyski is a final year PhD student at Leicester Cancer Research Centre. Her work focuses on identifying a chemopreventive agent for populations at high-risk of developing mesothelioma. She is interested in science communications and illustration, and enjoys being part of the wider scientific community, including being a member of the EACR for the past 3 years.
Website and contact details available at phdoodles.com