Growing (in) my PhD

I have a confession to make. I have become a plant lady.

Don’t get me wrong: I am still by no means an expert on plants. I actually forgot the names of all my plants except for my two spider plants because literally nothing ever kills them ( they are almost like weeds! It’s amazing*). I do not have an excessive amount of plants at home or in the office. And I only started my “office garden” after moving to our new building (Biomedicum**), where my friend gave me some cuttings when I was expressing my envy of the green office space of other labs in my quarter.

But when I come to the lab in the morning, I will first look at my plants. I also take too many photos of how much my plants have grown, which I normally only share with my mum who does not seem to mind (so far). I worry about who to ask as a plant sitter at home and in the office when I am off for holidays. And most importantly: my plants make me very happy.

From cuttings in a plastic glass to Biomedicum´s classic coffee cups / tiny plant pots.

So, did my PhD drive me insane enough to become a crazy plant lady, or is there any other explanation for my green dreams?

Green is often seen as the colour of balance, harmony and growth. It reminds us of nature, of the natural order of things, of the Circle of Liiiiiiiife (please sing along to the theme song of The Lion King in your head). And I think we can all learn important lessons from (taking care of) plants when it comes to how to handle your PhD project.

Even if you are not willing to get down into the dirt yet yourself, what can our green friends teach us?

  1. Are you one of those people who always lets every plant die? Guess what, that’s part of nature! As long as not everything dies at the same time, plants grow and plants die, as things come and things go. The same will happen to some of your research project(s). It is just a part of research life.
  2. Step by step, you travel far. Or, leaf by leaf, you can grow***. Divide up your huge experiment or project in different tasks and start by just doing one of them, and then the next.
  3. If you can take care of your plant so that it grows, you can do the same thing for yourself. Especially when you are working hard on your experiments, make some time to treat yo’ self!
  4. Some plants will need some support to grow; others just need some space and access to sunlight. Not all plants need the same amount or frequency of watering. Similarly, try to find out what you need from your supervisors and communicate this to them. And if you want to help your undergraduate students to develop themselves, try to adapt to their needs too.
  5. Act as a plant and grow towards the light. Don’t spend too much time on the things that don’t go as planned. Focus on the experiments that actually work and show interesting results and take it from there. As a PI recently told me: “90 percent of your experiments won’t work, in 5 percent of the cases you will mess up, and the other 5 percent work and are really cool. The key to science is to identify that 5 percent.”
  6. If you really want to make your plant thrive and aim for the sky, repot it every now and then! Life as a scientist is not static, sometimes it is time to move on to something else to be able to grow. It can be a new experiment, project or collaborator, or switching to a new position in another research group, university, country, or even outside academia.

Thankfully we have the KI Career Service to help you with your next career move, inside ánd outside academia.

Some plants did not make it through the long Swedish winter.. but the survivors got some much-needed new pots!

*After praising their low maintenance, I literally just found out that spider plants apparently are sensitive to fluoride in tap water. The resulting salt buildup in the soil causes their leaf tips to turn brown. The cure is to use rain water or distilled water. Luckily, you will find the latter in any lab!

** The Biomedicum building designers must have known all of this too: the coffee spaces literally have walls full of plants. I am only still dreaming about a rooftop garden & terrace..

*** Except when you are an ent. Then you can do both.

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