Win a place on a 5-day personal and career development course courtesy of Next Wave and the Research Councils' Graduate Schools Programme Competition open to UK-based 2nd- and 3rd-year Ph.D. students and Postdocs

'Why am I doing this?' A question that every Ph.D. student asks themselves at some point! Being a research student is very different from being an undergraduate. The lab is an intense environment, and finding breathing space to assess where you're headed and how you're going to get there is tough--even if you feel confident enough to do this on your own. Perhaps you already know that once you've gotten through this you'll never want to see the inside of a lab again as long as you live! You still love science and you don't want to 'waste' all this effort--but who's going to employ you? Perhaps you really enjoy research but you're worried about the career prospects in academia. Should you consider a move into industry? How can you prepare now to optimise your chances of success? These are questions that Next Wave tries to help you with, week in and week out. But sometimes you need something more. Some time out to discover your strengths and weaknesses and get some personal guidance from people who've already been there.

That's where the Research Councils' Graduate Schools Programme (RCGSP) can help. I went on one of these Graduate Schools when I was a Ph.D. student, back in 19... well, never you mind when I went on the Graduate School. The fact is, though, that I still describe it as the best 5 days of my Ph.D. It's a residential course, so you get to leave the lab behind completely. And for me, one of the best things was discovering that 90% of the other Ph.D. students on the course, from all over the country and all kinds of disciplines, were just as fed up to the back teeth with their Ph.D. as I was!

But you don't go on one of these courses for a rest! Expect to be busy from breakfast until you fall into a comatose sleep after a swift half in the bar! Still, you'll learn a lot about yourself as an individual and a team player, try out your hand in business games, and add to your network of contacts. And you'll return to your research with renewed enthusiasm--if only to get it finished!

If it sounds like too good an opportunity to miss, then you're dead right. And the really fantastic news is that if your Ph.D. funding comes from one of the Research Councils, you can go FREE!

So what if you're NOT funded by a Research Council? Do you have to shell out the £500 that these courses usually cost? Not necessarily! Next Wave and the RCGSP have teamed up to offer you the chance to win one of TWO FREE PLACES in our fantastic writing competition!

The competition is open to those normally eligible to attend a Grad School--2nd- and 3rd-year Ph.D. students. And we're also opening it to postdocs. Why? Well, there are also places at the Grad Schools for Graduate School Mentors--people a bit further down the career track who participate equally, but who are also able to offer their own perspective and experience at the same time as benefiting from the career development opportunities on offer.

So, what do I have to do to win one of these great prizes?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing: We've all wished for a time machine at some stage in our lives, so we could just zip back and say or do something completely different. Making these mistakes is all part of the learning process, but wouldn't it be nice if someone else could benefit from all that experience too? Well, we want you to help the next generation of scientists--those doing their B.Sc.s right now and contemplating a Ph.D. and those just starting their Ph.D. research--by telling them what you wish you'd known back when you were there.

Write us an article of up to 1000 words in the style of the first-person stories you can read on Next Wave telling us what you would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps you would work in industry for a while before doing a Ph.D. or move to a different university. Perhaps you'd work in a completely different field or take more care over choosing your supervisor. Or maybe you wouldn't change anything. Whatever your situation, tell us WHY what you've learned might help people following on behind and how you've managed to turn your mistakes into opportunities.

We'll be looking for solid advice and readability. So, put finger to keyboard and send your articles, by Friday 15 December, to nextwave@science-int.co.uk with the subject Graduate School Competition.

Winners will be able to choose which of the 21 Graduate Schools in 2001 they would like to attend--subject to availability. And please note that by submitting an essay, you grant Science's Next Wave and RCGSP permission to publish it should we choose to do so.