Your Q & A

We have collected some of the questions that have reached us – and answered them here for you! Please note that these answers reflect our own opinions! You have a question which is not answered here? Just get in touch and we will make sure to add it!

Q: What are the pros and cons about being a female in a male-dominated field?
A: In Mathematics it does happen sometimes that you are one of the few women at a conference or in a reading group. Unfortunately, the situation will likely be quite similar in industry. Although this can be difficult, things are changing slowly but surely and hopefully more and more female PhD students are doing a STEM degree every year. The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. By doing a PhD in STEM as a female you also show your persistence and resilience, which will make you more desirable to companies and which will be great for your own personal development in our experience. When setting up our events for the Piscopia Initiative, we have seen how many interested and highly skilled women there are in STEM departments all over Scotland – be brave, talk to them and build your own network. While there are few of us, you are definitely not alone.

Q: How do you find PhD deadlines in comparison to masters year deadlines? i.e. work load comparisons
A: A PhD is typically 3-4 years long in the United Kingdom, whereas a MSc is typically 1-2 years. While you take some courses during your PhD, these typically do not have exams, and you take a smaller amount than MSc students. Thus, MSc students typically have a lot of deadlines and a relatively high work load. During the PhD, however, there is more flexibility and freedom in when you work and what you work on. You often have to set and enforce your own deadlines, but you are usually helped by your supervisor in this and you are surrounded by other PhD students who are in the same position as you. However, this independence and absence of a clear schedule can be difficult for some people. Therefore, PhD students are typically encouraged to tutor and attend courses, to create some structure for themselves. It is a bit of an adjustment, but in the long run, we really started to appreciate this freedom. The work load depends from person-to-person and during your PhD. Some people work from 9-5, while others work from 11-7. Some people work in the evenings and weekends, while others take Mondays off and work on Saturdays. You will typically have higher work-loads when you’re trying to finish up a paper or when a collaborator is visiting, but you’ll have also get the chance to go to conferences and summer schools, which are great fun. 

Q: What is it really like to do a PhD? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing a PhD vs. entering industry straight away? What are the prospects after completing one’s PhD?
A: These, of course, are highly individual questions, depending both on the PhD and industry you choose. The main benefit of doing a PhD rather than going into industry straight away is the freedom you have to direct your own work, which allows you to pursue something you find truly interesting.
This aspect actually sheds a lot of light on what it’s like to do a PhD. You have to “be your own boss” and work independently whilst making sure you are achieving what you set out to do. Of course, you have input from your supervisor but this is far less involved than it would be on a grad scheme. There are a lot of opportunities during your PhD to engage with industry, either through internships specifically aimed at PhD students or through industry sandpits where companies give talks on the problems they’re facing that you may be able to help solve. This is also a great way to meet companies: if you engage industry during your PhD, just like anything else, you’ll get what you put into it. After you finish your PhD, you can either opt for a career in industry, there are companies who look to hire PhDs in mathematics for their research orientated roles, or a career in academia. It is of course OK to not know yet what you want to do after a PhD, but one thing’s for sure: a PhD in the mathematical sciences makes you very employable. 

Q: Can you share some of your personal PhD experiences?
My experience so far has been that there are a lot of opportunities to engage with professors from all over, learn about other areas of mathematics, teach and network with industry. A PhD really gives you the opportunity to improve skills across the board. It’s less formal than my experience in industry during an internship, but is great in that way as you get a lot more creative flexibility to pursue the aspects of the subject you enjoy the most. It is difficult, but if you keep organised and engage with the material, there’s no reason you can’t achieve it – they chose you to do a PhD for a reason! Having a schedule for yourself with dedicated time to do reading, marking, coding etc. definitely helps. The bug advantage of a PhD is that you can work during the hours you are most productive, so make use of that!”