The birth of a PhD student

It’s been almost a year to the day since I uprooted my life and moved to the Midwest for grad school. It’s been a grueling, wonderful, painful, freeing year. I needed this change, even during the parts where I wished I had stayed back home. Especially then. If I’d stayed, I’d still be working a soul-crushing job with miserable coworkers, growing more and more bitter each passing day, as I marked the years until retirement.

Leaving that job was easy. Leaving home, on the other hand, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But growth doesn’t happen in the comfortable places in our lives, and I wouldn’t become who I’m meant to be if I’d stayed.

I still don’t know who that person is, that I’m going to grow into. I just feel that my time here is going to shape and change me in ways I would not have even dreamed of. It already has.

This past year, I’ve realized that I’m terrible at making decisions for myself, almost always deferring to the opinions and advice of others. I have low self-esteem, I don’t trust myself, I’m not great at communicating, and I’m prone to bouts of depression and loneliness.

Going through this PhD program has opened my eyes to these things, and even after the first year, it’s challenging me to change them. One of these days, I’m going to have to take ownership of my research project, deciding on the direction it’s going to take and carrying out the experiments. I’m going to get up in front of crowds of people and tell them about my science. I’m going to have to be confident enough in my choices and knowledge to defend my science to other experts.

I’m not there yet, but I will be.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless. But it will probably be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

I finished reading LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren today. It’s a brutally honest look into the world and career I’m getting myself into, but, like Jahren, I can’t imagine any other life. I might not have her stamina and reckless drive, but I’m willing to do what it takes to reach my goals, just the same as her. I’m glad this book found me at this particular moment. I’m glad I have Jahren’s voice, the voice of a woman who succeeded in carving out a place for herself in biology, to listen to when things get hard. She knows. She’s been through it all.

I love science. I love learning. I love passing on knowledge to others.

I need to hold onto those things, even when research gets hard and I think about quitting. My dream of teaching college will only have the change at being realized if I don’t give up. I need to learn how to push past my self-doubt, how to ignore the little voice in my head saying I can’t do it. It’s so easy to get bogged down when things aren’t going well. I need to learn how to pick myself back up over and over and over, even when it seems impossible.

This past year has flown by, but I’m grateful for every moment of it. Even the not-so-great ones. And I’m looking forward to another year of more growth, no matter how painful.

I can do this.

I will do this.

 

On Self-Care

There’s a lot of rhetoric these days surrounding the idea of self-care, so much so that it’s not often that I go one day without hearing about it. But even though this idea is so pervasive in our culture, I’m still surprised by how hard it is to actually do it.

I think that part of the issue is just that self-care takes different forms depending on the circumstances of someone’s life. For instance, my self-care might look like sitting on the couch for a whole day doing nothing or it might look like deep-cleaning my apartment. Both are equally self-caring depending on the day.

One thing I’ve learned since leaving my last graduate program and now starting another, is just how important self-care is before you burn out. Self-care is an on-going process and isn’t just a bubble bath when you’re at your very last ounce of strength.

I have a new friend here who doesn’t seem to understand the concept of on-going self-care, and she’s now considering dropping out of the program. That’s the price she might pay for not allowing herself the space to rest and relax without any school stuff on her mind, and yet she is incredibly resistant to making those changes.

As a result of these ruminations recently, I wanted to make a list of self-care things I do. Maybe you’ll find them helpful.

  • Eat and drink enough and on time.
    • I have set times that I have meals and snacks because I know if I don’t eat I don’t feel well. I don’t need to set a timer because my body is good at letting me know when it’s time, but if you struggle with this, setting reminders on your phone might be helpful. I also have a large water bottle that I try to drink 2 of every day. Having the bottle as a measure is super helpful in making sure I’m drinking enough water.
  • Go to bed on time.
    • I struggle with this when life gets tough, but nothing makes things worse than not having enough sleep. I try really hard not to stay up too late, even when I don’t feel like going to bed.
  • Take care of the dishes
    • Even on days when all I want to do is curl up and not do anything, I still try to make sure I load/unload the dishwasher and do up the dirty dishes in the sink. Having a clean kitchen helps me feel like I’ve accomplished something, and it usually only takes about 10 minutes max to do.
  • Declutter my apartment
    • Having clutter around makes it hard for me to think, but I often don’t have the energy to keep everything in order during the week. So on some weekends when it’s gotten really bad, I spend 10 minutes picking things up and putting them away, and it helps me focus on my studies.
  • Leave my apartment
    • If I don’t leave my apartment for a day or two, I tend to end up feeling foggy and tired. I try to plan things so that I don’t have long stretches at home, alone, for days on end. Even if it’s just a quick trip to the grocery store, I find that the movement and change of scenery helps clear my head.
  • Read/Watch Netflix/Listen to Music
    • One of the hardest things for me is allowing myself the time to take a break from school and do something I love, but I’ve been trying to give myself some time every day. This semester, I’ve been watching more movies and reading more books than I ever have before while in school, and I’m actually really proud of myself for this.

Those are basically my entire arsenal for practicing self-care, and I don’t have kids so that makes it a little easier. The biggest thing is just giving myself permission to relax and rest, even if it doesn’t feel like I have time to. I’m definitely better at school and research when I allow myself time away from it all without guilt.

We aren’t meant to work until we drop. There’s more to life than perfect grades, and it’s important to take advantage of those things before work/school/whatever feels like too much to handle.

What are some of your self-care practices?

Life Updated: November 2018

It’s been about 3 months since I uprooted my life and moved to the mid-west for a PhD program. Things were hard in the beginning, but I have a new routine, and new friends, and the semester is slowly creeping to a close.

Things are better now. I’m generally happier, I’m finding where I fit in the program. I’m also incredibly glad I’m no longer at my previous job. It sounds like things there just keep getting rougher.

Things are far from perfect here, but they are looking up, and I am grateful for that.

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month. I’ve never won NaNo proper (I’ve won Camp NaNo in the past…), but this year I’m determined to get this story out of my head. And despite being really busy with schoolwork and research, I’m surprisingly still on track. A good portion of the first 10K of my WIP was taken from a previous draft (which I then had to edit and change some parts), but after that it’s all been new words. Even if I don’t win this year, I’m proud of the time management I’m learning to be able to fit everything in.

I’ve also started watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, which is an amazing show. I love the book, and I’m really enjoying seeing the differences and similarities between the two.

What are all of you up to? Is anyone else participating in NaNoWriMo?

Mid-West Musings

I wrote this piece this morning. Just posting it now as I finally have internet.

I’m sitting in the morning gloom of my new apartment. The only pieces of furniture that have been moved in here so far are the cot I slept on last night and a chair my landlords let me borrow because all of mine are still on the U-Haul. I hired movers to come later today, but I haven’t heard anything from them, and I’m not sure they’re coming. Time will tell.

It’s hard moving on. I’m so family-oriented that moving half the country away from them is going to be a painful period of growth for me. I know this move was the right decision. It’s just hard to feel that.

I have one day left with the family who helped me move out here, and it’s all going to be taken up with setting up my apartment. I wish I could have sight-seen with them instead, but we have to stay here until at least 1pm because the internet people have such a huge chunk of time in which they might stop by.

And the movers. I really hope they show up.

I’m planning on spending the rest of the week exploring the campus, getting used to the bus system, and taking care of my apartment and various tedious other tasks (such as a DMV stop, etc…)

School orientation starts next Monday. I’m really excited to get started, and very nervous too. Once classes start, I’ll be taking Biochemistry, which I have avoided my entire school career because I was afraid of it, and Statistics, which I figured would be a good refresher. It’s weird to be returning to school after 4 years off. I hope that it’s like riding a bike and I’ll be back in the swing of things in no time.

I left behind a job that would have given me a pension in 30 years, but looking around at my miserable coworkers, I didn’t want that to be me by the end. There are people who think I made the wrong decision because of the stability I left behind, but what good is stability if you’re so unhappy you actively work to make others around you unhappy? I’d rather take a risk and attempt to find something better.

I also realize how privileged I am to be able to take that risk. I’m relatively young, I’m single, I have no kids, and I have an amazing support system in place. I’m grateful for all of those things, and I’m grateful for being able to make this huge change.

I hope my going-back-to-school gamble pays off. I hope the PhD I’m going to earn opens enough doors for me that I’m able to get back into a stable job, but one that’s more fulfilling and is filled with less bitter people.

I’m going to miss my family. I’m going to miss the house I basically grew up in. I’m going to miss my friends. But I also know that this was the best decision I could have made for my future.

Note: The movers did not show up. We had to empty the truck ourselves.

Books, PhDs, and Ghosts, Oh My!

This year has been pretty strange so far. The world is a giant trash-fire, but there’s been great news for my friends in terms of their writing careers. It can be hard to reconcile the two things, holding sadness and joy in my heart at the same time, but I’m learning to just kind of roll with things.

I’m so incredibly excited for my writing friends. Two of them are self-publishing their work, and it’s awesome to see their stories out in the world. One just got published with a small press this past week. And two more have signed with agents. My heart is filled with pride for their successes, and I can’t wait to see more stories from them!

As for my writing… I’m still tootling along. I’m putting my writing career dreams on hold for a while, though, because I’ve decided to take the plunge back into academia. I was accepted into a PhD program which starts this fall, so while I’m planning on writing here and there, school will be my life for at least 4-5 years.

I have a goal to finish the novel I’m working on before heading off to school in ~3 months. Not sure if I’ll meet that goal, but we’ll see! Moving planning has been taking up a huge chunk of my time.

And next weekend, I’m off to a haunted weekend full of ghost hunting and metaphysical talks. I’m pretty excited about it!

So, lots of changes and exciting things coming up in the next few months. Life is funny because I never know what it’ll throw at me next.

Life Upheaval

These past 2 months have been incredibly busy. My work transferred me to another location and gave me 4 weeks to pack everything up, make all the arrangements I had to make, and then move. They wanted to give me 2 weeks, but that was a little much…

So, now I’m here in the new location, which is actually in my old stomping grounds where I grew up. It’s surreal being back in an employed capacity. I’m used to just swooping in for quick visits, so it’s taking some getting used to actually being back.

But it feels so, so good.

I’m back on the query wagon for my book and I’ve started writing a new one! It’s amazing how creative I can be when I’m in a place that’s more suited to me.

I’m back, baby! And I’m happy!

Rest in peace, Julie

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a woman I sometimes interacted with on Twitter had gone silent. I saw that her account was still up and thought maybe she was just taking a social media break. I looked forward to her return and thought nothing more of it. But I was wrong.

Julie Lonewolf, a delightful woman I enjoyed talking with, passed way from suicide last month. I learned this when her cousin took over her account. As devastating as her death is to me, I can only imagine how her family and friends feel.

What’s worse is that her death seemed to have been spurred on by harassment by certain people in the writing community. Julie’s cousin posted receipts of the harassment on a blog. You can find it here, but huge trigger warnings for racism, suicide, and bigotry. Please read with care.

Our community, the YA community, needs to stop accepting bullies. And I mean the actual bullies, not the victims defending themselves or calling out bad behavior. We need to stop rewarding problematic behavior. We need to stop allowing bigotry to flourish. We need to be better allies for our fellow writers of color. We need to stop allowing them to bear the brunt of the harassment because we white folk have the privilege to look away.

Because when we fail to do all of those things, the stakes are high.

Rest in peace, Julie. You are missed.