"I Live to think for myself. I refuse to be a mindless sheep following the crowd into cookie-cutter oblivion. Otherwise I'd just be a zombie with no heart or passion in life" - Hervey Taylor IV

The Grad School Struggle

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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Well, I'm back. But this time I think it's for real. No really, I've had some time to mull it over.  So, after nearly 10 months off from the blogging game I'll start this as a kind of re-introduction post to me. For those of you who don't know, I'm a 23 year old, native New Mexican, struggling pre-PhD candidate at the University of Michigan.

It's currently just after midnight (nearly two hours after my normal bedtime) and I've been inspired by my lovely friend Stacy to start up this blog again. I've been told many times by various friends how much they missed my shenanigans and awkward life moments as I document them on this blog.

I can come up with every reason in the book as to why I stopped writing... my life got less interesting as I got to grad school, I'm too busy, I'm not the same person as I was before. To some extent this is all true. But the real reason, is when I got to grad school, I kind of lost myself. Or maybe I had never even had myself to begin with. I'm not quite sure yet. What I am sure of is I still haven't found myself. And I'm also quite certain I was afraid to let you in on the very large fact that I don't have anything 'together.'

I guess I could say I was once a big fish in a small pond. I was good at what I did, which was school. My whole life school is what I did. I did other things on the side mind you, my sorority, Panhellenic, marching band (because I was that cool kid!), horseback riding, volunteering etc. but what I did best was school and yeah, I was pretty good at it.

And then the pond changed in to a lake and then an ocean and before I knew it I was chugging water just trying to stay alive. And I was failing miserably. Not only was I failing, but I hated every second of it. Not because I was failing but because of what it was. This is not the science I wanted to do and this was most certainly not the life I envisioned for myself. And I found myself in Nashville at my Aunt's kitchen island, wine in hand crying and trying to figure out how to tell my parents I was indeed dropping out of grad school right after the Christmas break.

Fast forward 8ish months and here I am still in graduate school. Actually, yesterday I just started my second year and I have to say I am quite content with where I am. I love my lab. I love my friends. I love my new roommates. And at least 75% of the time I love my life.

So how exactly did I jump from a complete breakdown and almost quitting to being satisfied with where I am today? Well, I learned and accepted a few facts about myself.

  1. Academia is not for me. Once I decided I wanted to go in to research, I knew I was going to be a professor. But as I  actually started to see the reality of professorship: too competitive, struggling for money, tons of grant writing, lots of hours for quite frankly not a justified amount of pay... I realized this life was not going to be for me and I had to accept that.
  2. I do not live to work. I work to live. I do quite enjoy my work otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. But guess what, I love me more. Not saying I don't work hard, because I do, but I won't work 80 hr weeks every single week like I used to. I can't do it. My body and my mind cannot handle it. And I enjoy my outside life way too much to be cooped up inside all day every day. Finding a balance between work and play was key.
  3. I need a stress reliever. I need something I can do several times a week to completely take my mind off of work and life and get out some of my pent up aggression/anger. For me, this is running and kickboxing. And hey, I get a great workout to boot. Which really means I can eat more food and drink more beer. 
  4. Science hates me. This was probably the most important thing I learned. Science does, in fact, hate me. With a passion. 80% of my stuff doesn't work out the first time, or the second time, and sometimes not even the third time. The more I expect this, the less stressed I get when it happens. And I can happily trouble shoot and continue on my slow... very very slow... uphill battle towards ever getting a PhD. 
  5. I'm not going to cure cancer and I'll probably never be published in a journal like Science and I'm ok with that. First off, I don't even work on cancer so I'm probably definitely not going to cure that or any other disease or do anything to get me a Noble Prize. I do basic science research on yeast genetics and I find it pretty interesting. Which doesn't mean you (or frankly most people) do  but that's ok. I'm going to be successful in my own way, but I don't need to be famous to do it.
I'm sure I learned plenty of other things too. Like, I learned how to ride a bike (story coming soon). I learned how to parallel park. And I learned Japan was an island... mind completely blown. I obviously lack all geography skills. 

And I know I still have a long way to go. Like how to not freak out each time I have to give a public presentation. Or how not to procrastinate everything. All good things to probably put on my check list of life lessons. 

But all in all, I'm still pretty much me. I'm still awkward. I still have horrible grammar. My friends still love to make fun of me. I still love wine (though I've drastically cut back on my drinking to the much happiness of my parental units). 

Don't worry, I promise to keep in touch. 


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