The end of summer marked much more than just the end of warm weather and a more relaxed outlook on life. You might be thinking "Lucy, isn't it always warm in Southern California?" to which I would say "Relatively speaking, yes, but if you become accustomed to 80-degree weather then 60 degrees feels like a tundra." I realize that is a very minuscule problem to have. The more pressing problem with fall is that it signals the return of the academic year, and, as a lab manager at a university, that means things are about to get a whole lot busier. It also marks the opening of many grad school applications starting September 1st. This made me eerily reminiscent of 2015 when I was waiting for the common app to open so I could start working on my college admissions essay right away. I'm feeling a lot of those same feelings: anxiety, fear, stress, excitement, stress, stress, stress.
I knew that I wanted to apply to graduate programs in Psychology, specifically Ph.D. programs, my senior year of college. I didn't want to apply quite that soon but I knew I wasn't finished with research just yet. If I wasn't going to apply to grad programs senior year, my next option was to apply for research jobs. I was really excited about this because I also really wanted a break from school. In my senior year, I worked a part-time job Mondays through Fridays mornings, took a few graduate-level classes, and worked in a psych lab where I worked on my senior honors thesis. My schedule was packed. I have always liked to stay busy but I was looking forward to a more stable day-to-day environment. I knew that a job in research could offer me that, specifically a lab manager job. So I started applying and interviewing around October of my senior year and accepted an offer in April. This was a long, arduous process. If you'd like to read a post about my job search and/or my job as a lab manager specifically, let me know!
So, I've been working as a lab manager for a year and some change now. Boy have I learned a lot. I knew this job would be helpful in that it would allow me to really hone in on my research interests as well as give me an idea of what working full-time in research is like. As an undergraduate research assistant, the scope of what I worked on was limited. I never had to deal directly with the IRB, I didn't manage multiple projects, and my software skills were just average. As a lab manager, I have been able to work on multiple projects investigating a broad range of questions. I have presented findings from my research projects at two conferences so far (fingers crossed for another two later this year!). I have been able to really improve my statistical skills and gain more experience working with R studio. On top of this, working with undergraduates has given me the opportunity to act as a mentor and pass along some knowledge I have learned in my journey thus far. TL;DR: this job has shown me that I really like working in research and am motivated to pursue a graduate degree - I think this experience was really necessary for me to fully understand what life is like working in this industry.
There have been moments where I have questioned if I'm a good fit for graduate school but there have been many more moments where I have been proud of what I have worked on and been able to share that with a community of like-minded, curious people. I've learned that making mistakes is inevitable; what's more important is how you manage and learn from those mistakes. This fall particularly has been a whirlwind of a time so far. With more and more things opening up in person again in Southern California, I have been transitioning my job and the lab to an in-person setting. It has been especially tricky because I, like so many other May 2020 graduates, started my job fully remotely. I was trained remotely. I worked completely remotely up until May of this year. And I worked one or two days a week in-person over the summer. The opportunity to conduct research in person now is one I am thankful for, but I was not expecting the transition from fully remote to almost fully in-person to be so jarring. Most days I feel like I have a lot more going on, but I'm not sure if that's due to the workload or just because I interact face-to-face with people on a daily basis now. Somehow it feels like those face-to-face interactions are more time-consuming than a zoom call. I love it, though. I'll gladly sacrifice some productivity to be able to just chat with another human being. I hadn't realized how lonely working from home had become until I was able to grab lunch with a co-worker on campus the other day. I couldn't pinpoint why I felt so happy about it but I realized that it was perhaps the most normal thing I had done in a long time.
All of this to say so much has happened that working on my grad school applications is something I have reserved strictly for the weekends. With deadlines quickly approaching (I can't think about winter break and the holidays without feeling a little sick over December deadlines), I have started to sit myself down in a coffee shop and work on my personal statements until my laptop dies. I've never been able to sit down and work on one thing for more than a few hours, so I've started to work on my applications early in the morning, take a break and work on other hobbies (reading, baking, trying to train my cat to walk outside on a leash...). I want to put all my effort into these applications because I want them to accurately and robustly represent me and my interests. However, I am trying to balance being more involved in family activities (I recently moved back home to save money), maintain friendships, and cultivate personal interests (see: this blog). I made a little schedule to keep me on track and set goals for myself each weekend. It's been helpful because I've been setting smaller, more attainable goals for myself. Honestly, creating this blog has helped motivate me even more. It reminded me why I fell in love with research in the first place. Being able to share resources, my interests, and advice I have either been given or learned the hard way is inherently rewarding because this information would have only probably reached a few people otherwise.
If you're reading this and want to know more about anything I mentioned in this post, please leave me a comment here or submit a contact form :)
Talk to you soon,