Life lessons from the first PhD year

Xiaoling Zhang is an LDE CEL PhD, working on Computational Thinking Education (CTE) in higher-level education. Having finished her master study in Computer Science at Leiden University and working as a technical education assistant at the Computer Science Institute of Leiden University (LIACS), Xiaoling Zhang joined LDE CEL as a PhD candidate last year in April.

Zhang spent the past year conducting research aimed at building intelligent computational thinking assessment solutions. While pursuing her PhD research, Xiaoling came across opportunities and lessons that go beyond only academic learning. Xiaoling tells us more:

xiaolingPhD in the times of COVID-19

'It has been around a year since I started doing a PhD. Looking back on the journey, there is a lot to be said and learned from. The experience has been intriguing, challenging and helpful at the same time. The circumstances of starting my PhD just as the COVID-19 pandemic made headlines allowed me to learn more about myself and gain personal development, such as learning how to stay healthy physically and mentally while facing the restrictions of working from home in the Netherlands.'

'The track of a PhD program in TU Delft goes beyond only doing research, it is a huge learning process, aided by components like practical courses. Obtaining skills of transferable, research and discipline-related aspects while conducting research by applying learned knowledge forms a crucial part of the doctoral training program. One learns a variety of practical applicable skills in addition to a vast of academic knowledge.'

A healthy balance

'Research skill and discipline-related skills are undoubtedly beneficial in terms of pursuing a better research career as they are the fundamental components. However, more importantly, learning life skills like maintaining balance and time management, knowing better conversation skills to communicate more efficiently and effectively are solid lessons to take with me.

I took the chance to interact with Master students, who helped expand my way of thinking and time-planning. To give some more concrete examples about tasks performed in the last year, I have had the opportunity to work with Master students, review a paper, supervise students while at the same time be supervised as a PhD candidate. These tasks led to insights into how to manage time better, structure tasks and strike a balance between them.

Further, as a member of the LDE CEL team, it is also good to put some effort into the organisation through teamwork, for example, supporting annual events and having discussions with members of the group. Being part of a team opens up doors to new contacts, ideas and events.

   Thinking is a life-long hobby 

Time to think

xiaoling zhang ictBy the continuous acts of participation, skills are acquired both unconsciously and consciously. Only when looking back to the journey, will you realize how far you have come. Above all the tasks performed and all the skills gained, the act of learning, thinking and doing is the most important factor throughout the whole year. No matter what it is about, life or work, everything is a way to exercise your brain. Thought processes, learning new ways of thinking and doing work enhance mindful activity. It is important to learn how to think, develop your way of thinking and working, and creating your own strengths and turning it into your own framework. 

Thinking is continuous process, concious thinking is my life-long hobby. Being a researcher, in my opinion, is like owning a mental playground for thinking to happen every day. The way that I have experienced the PhD program so far has given me the chance to better structure my work and life, empower myself with more professional skills and put things learned into use. Learning while doing, and doing while learning, is part of PhD life.