Managing the head space of a PhD

5 August 2016

Alisa Manuscript kategenius2009 Menzies Scholar in Engineering Alisa Selimovic says her PhD at Oxford University was an opportunity to learn about autonomy, pride, collaboration and for personal growth. While she says that her research is just a grain of sand in the bigger body of engineering research, she feels the experience was much more than developing academically.

“I found the idea of completing a PhD incredibly daunting. There’s a lot of pressure. You are committing to three years of research, often autonomously, where at the end you’re supposed to produce something novel,” Alisa said.

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“It’s is like a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs. From spending months trying to find the right method to obtaining great results...There were times I started to hate the whole thing and felt like I would never get out.”

Learning to manage that head space and find a way to overcome that mentality was a huge task for Alisa, who said she learned a lot from the experience. She also spoke about the power of being able to ask for help.

“When you spend so much time working alone, sometimes it becomes hard to remember that not all problems sit on your shoulders for you alone to solve. For me one of the greatest challenges was being able to admit when I needed support and then be able to reach out and ask for that help.

“Working in a lab filled with people from around the world studying such a wide array of subjects was also hugely beneficial. Being thrown into that environment and learning to harness the skills of others has made me a better listener, team player and leader.”

Completing a PhD also played a big role in developing Alisa’s confidence as both a leader and researcher.

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“It was also a great opportunity for self-affirmation because when I was tested and passed, it helped me realise that I am capable. I’ve taken that confidence with me. Every time I’ve gone for a raise, or put myself forward for a project, or asked to expand my work to encompass more interesting challenges; where I used to be more doubtful I have more confidence.

“My PhD was as much about gaining knowledge that can contribute to a specific topic as it was about learning about myself, commitment, collaboration and perseverance. I still use all the skills I developed in the process of my study, just for a different application.”

After completing her PhD, Alisa’s career has moved in a different direction. She’s now applying the technical and analytical skills she learned as an engineer within a pharmaceutical company in the UK working with researchers, investors and a broad range of clients.

As for the future, Alisa aims to keep developing as a leader and her ultimate goal is to leave behind something creative and productive.

“I don’t need a plaque with my name on it but I hope that in 20 years-time I will still be busily contributing and working on something productive to society. I have had such plentiful opportunities, and I hope that my work now and in the future bears evidence that I've made the most of them.”