I wonder how I’ll look back at this day…
The end of the STP?
The start of my new role as a clinical scientist?
Approximately day 4380 working from home?
My last ever blog post for STP perspectives?
I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that the same amount has happened to me in the last 8 months as has happened in the preceding two and a half years. The STP is always busy, but no matter how prepared you try to be, it all seems to cumulate in the final year. Dissertation and portfolio deadlines, final assessments and increased responsibilities in our departments, all while navigating a global pandemic. I don’t often say I’m proud of myself, but I really am. I’m proud of myself for getting through it all, and I’m proud of every other trainee too, whether you also finished this year or are still pushing through. You really are doing amazing in what is a really difficult time for everyone, especially in the healthcare sector. I don’t think it would’ve been possible to write a reflection this year without mentioning the covid-19 pandemic, but that isn’t really what I want this to be. This is a reflection on my whole experience of the STP, what I’ve learned and can share with you to relate to, learn from or just enjoy reading!
It’s funny how the passage of time can be perceived as both incredibly quick and unbearably slow at the same time. That’s how I feel when I look back at the journey/battle/never-ending obstacle course of the last three years. There are many metaphors I could use to describe this period of time, but basically: it’s been hard; mentally, physically and emotionally. But it’s also been so rewarding; not only have I achieved the ultimate goal of registering as a clinical scientist, I’ve made so many amazing friends, settled into a supportive and brilliant department in a beautiful part of the country, and had the most educational and interesting experiences along the way. Looking back I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and everyone who has been a part of it. So what advice would I give to my three-years younger self, going into the STP?
1. Stop doubting yourself so much
A bit of humility is good, questioning yourself often is good and being cautious is good when training as a clinical scientist. Crippling self doubt is not. I know a lot of people get imposter syndrome- it’s something we’ve written about and reflected on quite a lot. But honestly, doubting yourself and your ability too much is just doing yourself a disservice and will ultimately hinder your ability to contribute and learn. It’s easier said than done but work hard and trust the process and you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need.
2. Evaluate and take as many appropriate opportunities as possible.
There are loads of opportunities to do stuff outside the normal remit of your day-to-day job on the STP. Whether it’s outreach, additional training courses, attending conferences or even an elective. It can be fun, interesting and educational to do these things, and I encourage you to do as many as possible, because you definitely won’t get as many chances once you’re no longer a supernumerary trainee. However, I’ve definitely attended events that, in hindsight, were not as beneficial as I had hoped they would be. I have also signed up for so many things that I was supposed to be enjoying and learning from, but just ended up stressing more about all the work I needed to do when I got back to the office. So yes, opportunities are great, but be critical about what you say yes to, and don’t overload yourself; time management is such an important part of the STP, and a vital skill as a scientist.
3. Be someone people can rely on.
To me, finishing the STP wasn’t just about getting an MSc and completing my portfolio. I also wanted to build relationships within my department and wider scientific community. One of the attributes I find the most valuable in a colleague is reliability and accountability. So if someone asks you to do something for them- do it, and if you say you’ll do something, follow through. The earlier you can establish yourself as a reliable and hard working trainee, the more people will trust you and this will open up more doors for learning and development.
4. Don’t compare your experience to other people’s experience.
I think I’ve said this about 1000 times on this blog over the past couple of years. Everyone’s training is different, everyone learns at a different pace and everyone works in a different style. Not only are there differences between specialisms, universities and hospitals, training can also differ year-on-year (Hello, 2020?!). Yes it’s a 3 year program with a set curriculum, but there are far too many variables to directly compare the training of one trainee to another, so never feel like you’re ‘behind’ other trainees in your year.
5. There is no “right way” to do the STP.
Work on weekends, don’t work on weekends. Take a study day, don’t take a study day. There is no right way to manage your workload on the STP; there is no rule saying you must complete your portfolio entirely in your work hours, nor is there one saying you must do any work outside your contracted hours. Some departments might have established ways of working that limits your freedom to choose exactly how you manage all of your time, but you will have a degree of freedom and flexibility. So just do whatever works for you (within your departments rules obviously), as long as you get it all done.
6. Have a good support network
I think I may have mentioned once or twice that the STP is hard work. There’s no one who understands this quite as well as your fellow trainees. There’s something about being in the thick of it together that makes a support network of trainees so valuable. Whether they’re in your cohort, trainee network or a connection through another channel, having someone I could honestly talk/rant/moan to when the going got tough quite literally got me through the past 3 years. Also, build a good relationship with your training officer, be honest and solution oriented with them. They’re responsible for overseeing your training so will influence your STP experience quite significantly.
So I think I’ll leave it there. Who knows if/how/when things will return to normal, but I hope that this reflection can still be useful in some way to anyone reading- and if not, I hope you enjoyed reading it anyway! This is likely to be my last post on STPperspectives (at least for a while!) so I’ll end by saying: it’s been a pleasure sharing my journey with you and even if it’s only helped one person it’s been worth it!