Three lessons

My name is Jacobo Blanco, and I've recently survived a PhD. I graduated in June of 2015; it was a great day. My family flew to the UK for the event. My dad was very happy. He thought he wouldn't need to help me out with food money anymore. Shows how much he knows.

As happy as that day was, it was the culmination of 4 years of incredibly hard work and suffering. Doing a PhD will take everything you have. You will question your self-worth and every decision you've ever made, because all of them have led you to this moment. This moment when your supervisor is driving you crazy, and your code is not working, your colleagues think you're stupid, the research is going nowhere, your work is worthless, you haven't seen your family or girlfriend for months, and you'll never graduate, and you'll die alone and miserable and without a doctorate to show for it.

I may have lost my sanity for a while there.

It is impossible to go through something like that without learning a thing or two. I want to share some of those lessons with you, three lessons, nothing more. May they help you on the road ahead.

The first lesson is about saying yes. One day my supervisor enters the room and she suggests that we volunteer to act as assistants for an undergraduate programming class. "It will be three hours a week and you'll make some money" she said. I was very hesitant since I was already quite busy, but I said yes anyways because I needed the money, and probably a rest too. I'm really glad that I said yes that day because in the class was a girl. And that girl became my girlfriend weeks later. A year later we both got to fulfill one of our lifelong dreams and visit Japan. We were there for two weeks. It was the most amazing time, and I will never forget it.

So say YES because you never know

The second lesson, strangely enough, is about saying no. I was in one of our regular weekly meetings when the group leader informs us that we will be submitting our work to an upcoming conference. The deadline for submission? This Friday. We had very little time to finish the analysis, get the results, and build all the documentation. I knew that this was impossible. I said I would try.

Do or do not do, there is no try
— Master Yoda

The famous words by Master Yoda did not make sense to me at the time. I now understand. What followed was a grueling week where we slaved until 3AM to get the analysis done. Unsurprisingly, we failed miserably. We were exhausted, demoralized, beaten. We'd compromised our health, our relationships, and our sleep, and achieved nothing at all. I should have said no, I should have trusted myself and been professional enough to refuse a pointless endeavor.

So say NO because sometimes you do know better

The last lesson is about cherishing your people. I've been able to achieve great things. I've travelled, and made friends, and presented my work, and met some of the most intelligent and interesting people all because I had great friends and family to support me. You will not get anywhere without people to cheer you on and support you. They are your MOST valuable asset. So cherish your people and you can do pretty much anything.

So that's it just three lessons. Not too many. The truth is that I learnt much more than just three. But some things, however, are better learnt than taught. So go out there and do great things and be awesome.

Have a good one. Until next time.

-- Jacob Blanco