PhD Drama: The Script

Barbara Topolovec (ESR5)



To you, future young researchers.

For family, friends and loved ones to understand us better.

And for all of you, dear readers who like to follow our PhD journey.


I am writing to you after two and a half years of my life working as a researcher.

Imagine that a PhD is a sort of a written script. Short plot descriptions, scene settings, time periods, characters involved. The scene is settled – research institution, faculty, laboratory, your office space. The script also tells that the action takes place in different countries. You work on your research – perform experiments in the laboratories, attend training courses, meetings, and other activities. Characters are around you – supervisors, students, colleagues, and other employees. Some play important roles in your project, some of them you don’t even “see”. With time, you gain a certain amount of knowledge and experience, evolving into an expert in your field of interest. It seems like everything is going according to the script…

But there is more between the lines:

You realize – you are the character who is writing extra pages of the script to make it better. You improvise many times. What you find during research and learn from experimental results makes you change plans. You get lost and end up with more questions than answers. You often get frustrated and stressed, but this experience teaches you how to find yourself again and again. It’s not an easy job, but the important thing is that you keep going.

Moving and working in different environments can make you question yourself:

How can I manage?

What are my limits?

Is my knowledge regarding the work enough?

Your research is only one part of the script. In front of you are much more life obstacles that challenge you. You must adapt on different levels at the same time. You may also discover another side of you, which can change you and make you grow as a person.

The script also defines which characters you are going to meet. Even those that initially seemed unimportant can sometimes significantly impact your life. You also find yourself challenging your prejudices and learning to value and respect differences between people. While doing so, you get a clearer image of the person you want to become and the things you want to represent. This road may be hard sometimes, but it enriches you, if nothing else, by giving you friends that can become like family.

Important side characters are often not mentioned. Family, friends and loved ones at home. You learn how much they love you, support you and how proud they are. You learn who are the ones that have enough strength and love to stick with you even miles apart. And it can change them as well.

PhD is not just a simple written script. Many things are open to many interpretations, as well as hidden messages and notes that are indispensable for a happy ending. While it seems the script is just black and white on paper, there is a palette that enables you to perform a very colorful play in reality.

P.S. This script is written and performed in many different languages!! 😀