by Emily Taylor

Remember when you were younger and you looked up to those that were older than you, those at university and you thought, “Wow, they are so mature and have their life all figured out”, and now you are in their shoes and you find that you don’t have it figured out at all. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s how I feel on a near daily basis, along with many other undergraduate and postgraduate students. And I want you to know now that this is totally normal!

I’ve always been a planner, and if I didn’t have a plan mapped out in my head as to where I would feel anxious and lost. I always found it easier to focus if I knew what I was aiming for and it made me more motivated and determined to get where I wanted to go. When I first started my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Leeds, I made a plan that I wanted to pursue a career in academia and would be carrying on my studies into a PhD. As I moved through my degree, undertaking many research placements in a lab, I started to doubt whether research was really for me, as I found it discouraging when results came back negative, which is mostly the case in science. But even though I had these doubts, I came into my final year and started applying for PhD studentships because this was the only plan I had and my lecturers encouraged me to do so because of my grades. I had a plan and so I stuck to it because not knowing what I wanted to do was scary and didn’t have a set out path.

So now I’m coming towards the end of my second year of my PhD and yes,I am glad I did it otherwise I may have regretted it in the future, but also only being halfway through I know that I do not want to stay in research. In fact, I don’t know what I want to do, and even though sometimes this scares me, I know that it’s okay and that when the right opportunity presents itself then I will then know which path it is I am to take. Sometimes it’s okay not to have a plan, to not to know what you are doing next. Sometimes it’s okay to take things as they come and take things day by day. This is something I am learning and something that I think it very important as the stress and worry of not knowing what you want to do next can have a negative effect on our mental health; and all in all our health, both mental and physical, is the most important thing. It’s okay if you need to take some time to think about what you want to do, maybe taking a year out to figure things out, this isn’t failing, this is exploring what you really want! Because one day it will become clear and it will feel so much better than settling for a path that you are unhappy on.