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 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!

Upheaval and Settling In

These past few weeks have flown by. With the job offer, apartment hunting, packing, hiring movers, actually moving, and now the seemingly-endless unpacking, life has been incredibly busy.

I start my new job in less than a week and I am so excited! I’m embarking on a career and it’s thrilling and nerve-wracking and every emotion in between. This is definitely a new beginning for me.

My apartment is beautiful. Light and airy and perfect. There are a few quirks to get used to, but what new place doesn’t have those? It’s lovely to be out on my own again.

I’m hopeful for the future.

My life in flux

I know I missed Flash Fiction Friday yesterday and I’m sorry if any of you are upset about it (Z, I’m looking at you). I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t have time to prepare something, but I have good news!

After graduating from my master’s program 9 months ago, I was finally offered a full-time sciencey type position! I’m incredibly excited about it, but it means putting my affairs in order, saying goodbye to the Hudson Valley and everyone I love, and moving 5 hours away. It’s been stressful and exhilarating and anticipation-inducing, but I found a place to live and will be packing up soon!

I am so excited for this opportunity. I love writing, and dream of being published, but science will always be my first love.