Somehow I lost track of, like, a whole year, but life has been moving fast! In short, graduate school has felt like a 100 meter sprint on repeat. But the exhilaration of new experiences, new people, new knowledge, and a new perspective has made the exhaustion well worth it. Ask me next year, maybe it will get old and repetitive, but for I'm enjoying a packed schedule and being challenged to push my limits.
I don't think I really had any idea what going back to school would feel and look like. I'm using my undergraduate experience as a reference, and, even though I took a full course load, had a part-time job, and volunteered at two labs back then, graduate school is an entirely new beast. Mostly because my progress and pace is pretty much set by, well, me. Unlike undergrad, there aren't as many hard deadlines or externally motivating factors like grades. So progress is measured a little more creatively. Sure you do have some grades in the beginning, but they don't really matter. And you have to take your qualifying exams and writtens, but you either pass them or just take them again. What really matters is your publication record, the projects you're currently working on, grants you apply for, and the connections you're making. If you want to stand out and make progress, you'll have to make an effort to do more than just get good grades and work on your first-year project. You'll have to go above and beyond, work on multiple projects at once, submit to as many journals as it takes for you to get a first-author publication, make connections within your department, develop a good reputation for yourself, apply for external funding and recognition, give back to your community in a meaningful way - oh and sleep, eat, and have a fulfilling life outside of school otherwise you'll get all your validation from academia and forget that you are a person with inherent worth and interests outside of all of this craziness.
Take this all with a grain of salt because I haven't even finished my first year in my PhD program yet, but I'm constantly looking for ways to better myself both within and outside of academia. I think it'll be funny (and maybe helpful) to look back at this in a few years to see how my expectations have changed. Within academia, I am working on three projects that are testing me in very different ways. I am realizing that I still have a lot more learning to do, I'm not as organized as I thought I was (especially when it's not my full-time job anymore - lab managers I'm talking to you!), but also that I have a lot of questions that I want to explore. I'm trying to do a better job at keeping up with current literature and developing precise questions I want to answer. It feels very hard sometimes because so much of time is dedicated to coursework and teaching assistant responsibilities and I am also trying to establish a community here because I know it will be important to love where I live and feel like it's a home rather than anything temporary. I've never lived anywhere for more than 4 years (when I was in college) so when I moved to Davis, I knew I had to work really hard to make it a home to me. Outside of academia, I have been making really great friends, playing on an intramural soccer league, learning how to rock climb (I feel like this is a hobby every 20-something-year-old takes up eventually, but it's great for problem solving!), and trying to do some intrapersonal work on my emotional maturity and boundaries. I guess I thought everyone was given those skills when they grew up, but I am learning (the hard way) that I need to put in a lot of work to feel connected to myself and others in a healthy way.
So what have I learned?
I would be nowhere without my google calendar + the time insights feature
Reading a little bit of an article everyday is better than trying to read the whole thing 15 minutes before class
I always regret not speaking up and I have learned to embrace embarrassing myself so now I never really regret saying something 'stupid'
Everyone has a different work-life balance, make sure you make yours clear to others so they respect your time
Being honest about a mistake is stressful in the moment, but infinitely easier in the long run
Just because everyone is going out doesn't mean you need to - but just because everyone is staying in doesn't mean you have to, I have learned a lot about myself by doing things alone :)
Finishing a book feels so much more rewarding than finishing a TV series or scrolling through TikTok (still need to figure out how to do this more though...)
Biking is actually really fun and makes me feel like a kid
Always plan months in advance when preparing research projects or manuscripts (and have a reasonable timeline)
Looking back, my gut instinct has rarely even been wrong
Your body deserves as much attention as you give to your mind
Be a nice person
Re point 7, I've been reading more and wanted to share some of my favorite books from the past few months:
Where the Crawdads Sing
Klara and the Sun
Beautiful World Where are You
The Future for Curious People
The Anthropocene Review
The Vanishing Half
Doing Good Better
And some relatively cool podcasts I've liked recently:
Ok I'm done rambling, I'm on my second caffeinated bev of the day which isn't something I want to make a habit of, but it's just how today is going. I can't believe it's 2023 and that we're almost 1/4th done with the year and that yesterday it was 70 degrees and tomorrow morning it's going to be 35 degrees.