Reflections of an MSc student: 6 lessons I've learnt thus far

At the beginning of the year, I told one of my friends how 2022 felt like it would be a good year.


And so far, I have been right.


Things have been so busy and productive that I am only now able to catch my breath and reflect on how far I have come and what it is that I hope for the year.


Nosihle Msomi
When you're in a happy place :)

I’ve actually been having the most fun with my project these past few weeks than I have these past two years, and that's saying something.

And so, I wanted to share a few of the things that I have learnt along the way that have helped me get to this happy place with my research.


Hopefully, these can help you too :)



1. WHEN NEEDED, CALL YOURSELF OUT


I won’t lie; it’s easier for me to play the victim than it is to analyse my faults and start working on them.


I’ve had to start taking more accountability for my actions and, as corny as it sounds, I’ve had to start showing up for myself.


If I’m going to achieve the things that I want to accomplish, I need to put measures in place to ensure that I realise my goals.


Bribing myself with snacks so that I can study
Sometimes you have to just bribe yourself with snacks when it's time to work

So even when it’s difficult, I need to hold myself accountable. I need to pull through for myself. I need to make things happen for myself.


One thing I’ve realised is that no graduate programme is linear.

There will always be new challenges, moments of self-doubt and then moments of clarity.


It’s within those moments of uncertainty that things get shaky. The key is to have a little bit of discipline and keep yourself accountable for what you set out to do.


Sitting here today, I can truly say that I am more confident in myself and in the skills that I have gained.


I'm passionate about achieving what I believe is the most important goal of my project: creating something that can directly help patients and provide them with quality health care.


I am only here because I'm choosing to show up for myself even when it feels difficult.



2. REMEMBER YOUR IKIGAI

At some point I had to ask myself why I'm still doing this because coming out with a Master's degree is not enough motivation for me to actually finish my MSc.


I know, I know.

But honestly, I couldn’t care less if I got my MSc.

Rather, it’s the ability to help others through the research I am doing that has kept me going.


If you have ever looked at my LinkedIn bio you will notice that for the past few years it has said that I am “Working towards making advances in the medical science field to help avail affordable, quality health care in parts of Africa”.


I forgot about this but along the way, I remembered this is exactly what I am doing with my MSc.


I mean, my project will provide a platform that will help patients suffering from meningitis which is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain which is usually caused by some sort of infection.


In cases where we aren't sure what’s causing the infection, we can take some of the fluid surrounding the brain and sequence the DNA to determine the cause of infection.


Working in a lab during loadshedding, lab work, post grad studies
When loadshedding hits but you can't stop working :)

It’s taken me a while to figure things out, but you guys, I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


For me, it has always been about helping out those who are sick and in need. It’s also been about doing something for myself and being able to achieve it.


Remembering this has given me the strength to keep moving forward with this MSc project.


3. IF IT’S NO LONGER SERVING YOU, LET IT GO

Something else that is important that I feel I need to add is that as time passes, our personal goals and objectives may change and we need to be okay with accepting that.


We won’t always want the same things we wanted before in life, and if that’s the case we need to be okay with changing our trajectories.


There’s no need to hold onto things that no longer serve us.





4. IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP


I must admit though that my optimism is also due to the incredible support structure that I have not just with my inner circle, but also with the various people at the NICD as well as the other students in my programme.


I think a lot of the time in STEM, there’s more praise if you can achieve things independently, but I’ve come to embrace collaborations and working with others.

More can be accomplished if you are open to asking for help. I wish this was something that I could have learnt much earlier.


postgrad students, evening, dinner, South Africa
A rare photo of postgrads going out for dinner

5. LEARN TO BE KIND TO YOURSELF

A lesson that I am still learning to accept is how to be kinder to myself.


Just because I sometimes make mistakes and don’t know all the right answers doesn’t mean I have to be hard on myself.

This is a marathon that requires a growth mind set.

Part of this means that I won’t always know everything but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn it.


The least I can do for myself is to be kind to myself whilst I’m still learning, gaining new knowledge and developing experience.

6. TAKE CARE OF YOUR WELLBEING



Academia is hard, period.

If you’re not taking care of your physical and emotional wellbeing it can be a slippery slope for your mental health.


I know it may be really hard especially when we live in a society with a ridiculous work culture.


Burnout is real.


Mental Health problems are real.


We need to normalize taking care of ourselves before it’s too late.

If this is something that you struggle with, you can read the Burnout and Self Care blog post which takes us on Lexi's journey through burnout by prioritizing herself and her self-care.


These are just a few of the lessons I have learnt thus far.

There's still so much more to learn and discover and I'm okay with that :)



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