Climbing the PhD Mountain

Nikoletta Tsiarta (ESR14)



“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”, this is the phrase it comes to my mind when thinking of how my PhD life looks like until now.

As all my other ESR colleagues, I am now finishing the second year of the ITN project NOWELTIES (ohhh time flies, indeed), and I cowardly take the step to enter the third and final year of my PhD studies! To me, it looks like a mountain, like Montserrat actually, this weird multi-peaked mountain near Barcelona. If you ever want to visit Catalonia, it´s a place where you should be. The rock formation is amazing, and the view from the top is even more astonishing.

Coming back to our topic, I feel that I am very much related to those peaks. Each one is unique, and the furthest you go, the more peaks you will see. I am now standing on the foothills and watching all the way up. I’m thinking about where to start and what path to take to make it to the top; 1,500 points and 5,000 routes are available! I know the road will be difficult (it´s all uphill!), but on the way, I will for sure find more people trying to reach the main peak. Everyone wants to see the view from the highest point. I told you, it´s magical.

Hmmm, I take a deep breath, and I start. I soon make a stop, and I think. How did I end up here? What has brought me in front of that weirdly shaped mountain? I look back, and I see the two years of my PhD life. They are waving at me, and they are encouraging me to climb that mountain.

These two years were not easy. But who said that a PhD is an easy thing? Many factors can affect the performance of a student; family issues, adapting to a new country and homesickness, lack of guidance, mental problems, and a lot more. (Believe me, PhD students are six times more likely to develop anxiety and depression than the general population!) But the important thing is that you still stand there, and you keep going. And it´s what I am trying to do, all of us actually. The easiest would be to give up, but we are missing all those beautiful views from the top of each peak.

For long hiking/climbing routes, someone needs good shoes, comfortable clothes, some energy drinks or protein bars, supporting equipment, and of course, good company. And this is what the last two years offered me. All the necessary supplies to get ready for this trip.

I take a second breath, and I continue. I know that I have been dealing with a lot of administrative work (this is what a double degree requires!). At the same time, I was trying to progress with the technical part of my project. Now I feel that the time is running after me and that I need to speed up and reach the first peak, any! And then continue for the next and the next until I finally make it to the top.

I know I can make it, even though sometimes I reach valleys and stay there for a while. But it’s just OK. Sometimes, you need this time for yourself. To evaluate and refill your energy tanks, not only physically but also mentally.

It’s going to be a challenging route. But if I managed to stand in front of Montserrat, I think I can face Pyrenees (they are quite close) and then the Alps (a bit further away but still close!), and who knows? One day I can climb Everest! 😊

Don’t be afraid of the mountains. They are full of surprises and exciting experiences. You need to put some effort to get there, but still, this is life. Just think positive and keep going.

And just let me finish with this, “If you want to go fast you go alone, but if you want to go far, we go together” enjoying our homemade lemonade on the top of the peak!


Image source: Montserrat mountain and lemonade