The things I miss the most from my time as a PhD

The thing I miss the most from my time as a PhD is access to people with interesting problems. That's very hard to find outside of academia.

Many people, when faced with the struggle of stepping out of academia, ask themselves what are they going to miss after the transition. Sometimes, when it is an active choice, it is fair to ask if what we’ll get compensates what we leave behind.

In my case, there is one thing that made all the difference: access to people with interesting problems.

I didn’t value it enough while doing my Ph.D. I gave it for granted and, in hindsight, I didn’t interact with as many people as I should have. Many researchers are facing next-generation problems, they are posing questions aiming at very far fetched applications if any at all.

Outside of the academic environment, it becomes harder to meet people doing this type of cutting edge work, people who pose themselves hard problems. I miss the seminars and random talks by invited speakers.

During my Ph.D. I sometimes over estimated the value of being in the lab, of adding few more data points to a plot. I discovered way too late the value of attending random seminars for the pure pleasure of trying to learn something new. Maybe postdocs can be in the same situation, but I suspect that the pace of research in modern academia could preclude many PI’s from serendipitous learning.

If someone is starting their Ph.D. or postdoc, I would strongly recommend them to pay attention to every opportunity for random encounters. They won’t happen in different contexts.

What I miss the most, looking back, is going to seminars and talks. I know I won’t have them back naturally.

So, if you ask me today, I think one of the most valuable skills someone can have is being able to make connections through fields and problems from different disciplines. It’s at the intersection of worlds where there’s the most to win when thinking about solving the challenges of the future.

And the only way we have to develop the skills of being and interstitial person is by exposing ourselves to different realities: listening to people telling their stories.

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