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 by Maria Faleeva
, posted on 21 Oct '20

Introducing Maria, Our FindAPhD Student Ambassador

Hi guys! My name is Maria and I’ll be working with FindAPhD as their Student Ambassador this year. As of a couple weeks ago, I'm officially enrolled as a PhD student at Kings College London in Cardiovascular Research. At the moment, it all feels very bizarre and slightly surreal, especially due to the new normal of life under the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I am extremely excited to see what the year will bring.

I’m also looking forward to helping you guys on your journeys as you set out to find your own PhDs by sharing and reflecting on my experiences (and pitfalls) of the last year. So, to get to know each other a bit better, here’s an introduction to me.

Who am I?

Originally I come from Russia, but I have continuously been the 'foreign kid' as my family have moved around a lot. I finished high school in the USA, moved to Scotland for my undergrad, and then to England for my Masters at Imperial College. During the height of the pandemic I received some unexpectedly good news when I was accepted for a BHF-funded PhD to study what happens within our arteries as we age using various microscopy techniques. These broad strokes bring us up to date with my story, but…

Did I always know I’d end up doing a PhD?

No. Absolutely not. In fact, in high school, I always leaned more towards the arts. So much so that when I was applying to my undergrad, I sent out applications to universities to study Animation and Neuroscience.

At the end of the day, I went with Neuroscience and enrolled at the University of St Andrews up in Scotland. However, I ended up switching my degree once more to Biochemistry halfway through my studies, and it was then that it finally crossed my mind that I could pursue research as an actual career path.

I’ve always preferred hands-on tasks and my experience in the undergraduate labs conducting little experiments each week made me really passionate about one day conducting my own experiments (with unknown results). From then on, I started to get as much experience as I could, which led me to the Masters, and finally to where I am today.

Have I always been in the same area of research?

Once again, not really. It took me a while to understand what area I wanted to specialise in, in fact I didn’t truly know what I wanted to do until my Masters.

Before then I had my fingers in a lot of research pies – gaining experience in a variety of different fields until I landed upon Cardiovascular research. For me, this was the perfect blend of a research topic I was interested in and the employment of lab techniques I wanted to learn more about. This made me realise I'd found a field I wanted to pursue further and generate my own research in.

Are the initial experiences of a PhD what I thought they would be?

Initially my expectations were that my PhD would have a similar start to my Masters. I sat and read for a few days to get my head around the research area, and then cracked on in the lab.

However, with the COVID-19 situation, a lot of universities' labs have had to take strict measures on how many people they are able to admit at any one time. This means no more rocking up to lab whenever you’re free, but rather going through several booking systems a couple of weeks in advance before even setting foot there. So far, I’ve only met one of my supervisors face to face once, and my other supervisor I’ve only met through the lens of the ubiquitous Zoom camera.

So, this has also been a rather unexpected start, but I’m sure in time I will find a routine that works for me – and I’ll keep you updated as I discover it.

Why am I here?

My days of applying for PhD were not full of fun and glory. As a person who stresses so much it should almost be a part time job, I had a difficult time throughout my applications. It took me a while to figure out how to correctly identify projects I wanted to do, how to write personal statements, and how to do interviews.

So this year, I would love to demystify the process and take a little bit of stress away from you guys. I’ll be writing more blogs, making some short videos related to PhD study and giving tips on the application process.

The first event I’ll be involved with is the FindAPhD LIVE Virtual Study Fair on 26 October, where you guys can come find me (virtually) and ask any questions you may have.

You may also like...

What happens at a virtual PhD fair?

Maria will be talking about her experience so far at FindAPhD LIVE next week. Find out what else is on the schedule and how to get involved!

10 feelings you'll have starting a PhD

Hannah explains what the beginning of a PhD was like for a Humanities student.

How not to apply for a PhD

If you're not doing any of this, well, you're probably doing more or less the right thing.

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