Embracing Serendipity: A Crucial Element in the PhD Journey

By Guest Blogger

In the pursuit of knowledge and groundbreaking discoveries, the world of academia often emphasizes structured methodologies and rigorous research plans. However, amidst the organized chaos of lab research and PhD studies, there lies a hidden gem that has the potential to redefine the course of one's research journeyserendipity. The best scientific breakthroughs often occur when the unexpected infiltrates the realm of focused exploration. Here, we delve into the importance of leaving room for serendipity during your PhD studies and offer two simple steps to welcome these unforeseen moments.

Widening your search

The first step towards inviting serendipity into your research lies in expanding the scope of your exploration. While it is essential to delve deeply into your chosen field, don't shy away from looking beyond its confines. The beauty of serendipity often emerges at the intersections of disciplines. Cast your net wider, explore tangential subjects, and let curiosity guide your intellectual journey.

Practical approaches

One approach to achieve this goal could involve participating in interdisciplinary seminars, such as those in bioinformatics or chemistry, even if your primary focus lies within a biological lab. Engaging in such seminars exposes you to discussions beyond your immediate field, fostering a diverse range of perspectives and sparking innovative thinking that may benefit your current project. Another strategy could entail immersing yourself in diverse literature. By delving into new topics and expanding your knowledge base extensively, you open doors to fresh insights and broaden your understanding, ultimately enhancing your project's potential. Widening your search creates fertile ground for serendipitous encounters that could spark unforeseen connections and ideas.

Maintaining openness and looseness of spirit

The second crucial element in harnessing the power of serendipity is maintaining an openness and looseness of spirit. Amidst the rigors of PhD studies and long days in the lab, it's easy to become very focused on the details of a specific research question. However, breakthroughs often happen when we allow ourselves moments of release and mental freedom.

Practical approaches""

Engaging in mindful meditation, taking field trips, and spending time outdoors in nature or visiting museums can be excellent methods to detach from the constant stream of thoughts related to lab research and gain fresh perspectives. Such activities foster a mindset that embraces the unexpected and encourages exploration of tangents or seemingly unrelated ideas. It's beneficial to carry a notebook at all times (or use the notes app on your phone) to capture fleeting thoughts and connections that emerge during moments of inspiration. Additionally, journaling in the morning has proven invaluable for me, allowing me to pinpoint areas of my career and life where I excel (and thus feel grateful) and identify areas in need of improvement. These unrelated ideas might hold the key to unlocking new perspectives or even revolutionizing your research.

Why serendipity matters

Serendipity is not just a stroke of luck; it's a mindset that can lead to unexpected discoveries and innovative solutions. Allowing for serendipity in your lab research and PhD studies can enrich the depth and creativity of your work, while offering mental health benefits by encouraging activities beyond the lab routine. It encourages you to think beyond the confines of a predefined path, opening doors to novel ideas and approaches. Moreover, the ability to embrace serendipity fosters adaptability, a crucial skill for a successful research career, whether within academia or industry.

Albert Einstein once said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” This quote encourages us to contemplate our approach to life and how our viewpoints influence our encounters. It underscores the contrast between perceiving the world solely through logic and adopting a grateful, wonder-filled perspective that recognizes marvel in all things.


Subscribe to the Addgene blog!


In the structured world of lab research and PhD studies, where every aspect of research is meticulously planned, it's easy to get stuck in your everyday work and thus overlook the potential for serendipity. However, the best discoveries often emerge when we allow ourselves the freedom to explore beyond the expected. By widening your search and maintaining an openness to unexpected possibilities, you not only invite serendipity into your research but also cultivate a mindset that is adaptable, creative, and poised for groundbreaking discoveries. So, on your academic journey, remember to leave a little space for the unexpectedit might just be the key to unlocking the next frontier of knowledge.

matteo LI image-min Matteo Tardelli authored the book "Beyond Academia: Stories and Strategies for PhDs Making the Leap to Industry." He successfully transitioned to industry after his PhD and a couple of postdocs focusing on molecular biology and metabolism. He now guides fellow PhDs in their careers with actionable steps and execution plans. 


More resources on the Addgene blog

Experimenting with New Careers While in Grad School

How to Lead a Great Meeting

Form Your Own Peer Mentoring Group

Topics: Science Careers

Leave a Comment

Sharing science just got easier... Subscribe to our blog