Don’t ask; Don’t tell: Grad School Edition

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At the time I’m writing this, I should be studying for my final exam that’s occurring two days from now. I should also be trying to wrap up my first mini research project so that I can present to my professor this week to see if I found anything remotely interesting. Even more, I should also be helping my boyfriend with laundry and cooking and chores and other house related things, because I’ve seriously been lacking at all these things, making him pick up the slack.

Life is hard. Grad school makes life harder.

When this post is published, I would have finished the first quarter of my grad school career. It’s a great feat and pretty awesome in the grand scheme of things. But, I am in no mood to celebrate because goddamn it was such a challenge! Worse,  it feels like I haven’t accomplished a damn thing and am not a single step closer to that degree I’ve been dreaming about for years. Talk about a motivation killer, right?

What sucks even more is that when I look around at older grad students, they seem to be doing okay. Perhaps more bags under their eyes than the typical adult, but other than that they’re happy and seem to be contently working on their respective research projects. When I look at my fellow cohort, they’re tired, sure. They admit it’s an adjustment. However, it seems that most of the time they just complain for a few minutes and then go about their day. Are you not having as hard a time as I am? What am I doing wrong? Why am I so stressed out? Am I not cut out to be here?

This past weekend I had a chance to meet up with my best friends from college. One of them happens to now be a first year graduate student at UCSB in computer science. When we all first met up, we chatted about the typical nonsense. We were catching up like old times. But eventually, one of our friends asked us about our grad school experiences were so far. There was a minute of silence. Should I lie and say I’m doing fine? I didn’t want to complain. What if he was doing fine? What if I was the only one that was having a hard time?

The silence eventually broke and he was the first to speak. The moment he uttered “I never thought it would be this hard,” I wanted to cry. He’s going through what I’m going through! I’m not the only one!

I feel grad schools should have some kind of program that tells its incoming students that there are days you’re going to feel like a failure. There will be days you’ll be depressed and want to either quit; days when getting out of bed to go to campus seems like the most horrible idea in the world. I certainly didn’t know any of these feelings would happen. I knew that research was difficult and there are times when nothing will work out. I knew that finding a good lab to work in was an important step in the process. I even knew how soul sucking writing proposals and grants would be! But never did I ever know how hard it would be in those first few months.

I wish grad students were encouraged to talk about the emotional and mental challenges that are faced in the beginning of their careers. But rather, it seems that none of us want to admit that we’re having a hard time, be it because we feel we’re the only one or because we know we signed up for this lifestyle. Regardless, I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has had a rough first quarter out of my cohort or even out of all the brand new grad students that started this fall. Yet, somehow, up until this weekend, I’ve never heard anyone talk about it.

So, let’s talk about it. For those of you who just started and are getting your butts kicked by TA duties, grad classes, rotations or even just finding a lab to call home, it sucks. It’s tiring. It can make you feel like quitting. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision when you applied. It doesn’t mean that you’re stupid, or incompetent, or that you didn’t deserve your acceptance. It’s normal! I’m going through it. And I’m sure many others are too.

You are not alone!

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