Category Archives: Grad School & Academia

My Identity Crisis: Getting Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness in Grad School

I’m the type of person who throws herself into a new identity. For example, I recently picked up knitting. Yet, in my mind, knitting is now and will forever be “my thing”. I am Krystal, the knitter and no one will convince me otherwise! I look forward to the day I’m good enough to make myself some fancy ass shirt or blanket or something, despite the fact I’ve only made one scarf.

It’s an odd personality trait, I know, but I think it has served me well throughout my life. Minus those weird adolescent years, I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of identity. I knew who I was and who I wanted to be. And sure, those two things changed a bit over the years as I matured and learned more about myself. But that never changed my end goal: get from one end point to the other. Should be easy enough, right?

Well, last summer, I started to not feel like myself. At first, it was subtle. I was constantly tired and had trouble sleeping–two things that could be easily chalked up to stress and overworking myself. Then, I lost all interest in my research. But, then again, I’d always heard about that “grad school slump” that occurs around your third or fourth year. Maybe I was just going through that? But soon enough a host of other bizarre symptoms started appearing slowly, then all at once. And then, finally after many doctor visits and a (rather scary) trip to the ER, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, cognitive issues and other fun things…

Now, when I imagined who I wanted to be in the future, a badass female scientist who loves her job and still has time for her family, never did I ever imagine that badass future me would have to do all that while dealing with a chronic illness. I wish I could say I jumped into my new identity and am trying to make the best of my situation, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I am very much in the midst of an identity crisis.

And yes, I’m pretty sure anyone would have an identity crisis after getting life-changing news like that. That’s normal. But for me, at least, it’s been extra hard because I’m a grad student. I belong to a group often defined by long hours, heavy workloads and high expectations. But what happens when my body can no longer live up to that criteria? What happens when overworking myself even the slightest bit lands me in bed and in pain? Well, my brain starts feeling sad, ashamed and guilty and I begin to relate to tweets like the one below.

I’m obviously very new to this and don’t have any insights on how to navigate any of this. Maybe one day I will. I’m sure this blog will be the first to know. But now that the dust has settled and I have an official diagnosis, I’m slowly trying to put myself back together. My future may not look how I originally imagined, that’s for sure, but I know that the limitations of my body don’t take away from my contributions of a scientist. Besides, the internet has been able to connect me to so many badass scientists that also deal with chronic illnesses. So if nothing else, at least I know I’m not alone.

Let’s Talk About Lab Safety

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A few weeks ago my department held a mandatory lab safety day for all the grad students/postdocs. Overall, it was pretty uneventful. I was just happy that I had an excuse not to get any work done that day and be rewarded with free food afterwards. However, there was something that stuck out during this event that irked me, and after debating back and forth on if I wanted to discuss these thoughts… well, you’re reading this aren’t you?

Continue reading Let’s Talk About Lab Safety

A Taxing Burden: On Being a Minority in Academia

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It’s weird to be in a place that was never meant to include someone [that looks] like me.

That’s a (slightly paraphrased) quote from a conversation I had with a woman of color and graduate student, following our conversation about the state of our university’s diversity.

“Especially when you see all those pictures of old, white men hanging on the walls of some of the seminar rooms,” I replied, half-joking. After which she exclaimed that I was the first person she’s known to comment on this. Others, she’s mentioned, just didn’t really get it. Continue reading A Taxing Burden: On Being a Minority in Academia

A letter to myself about mental health

Dear Self,

You haven’t written a blog post in about 313 days. That means over 85% of the year has passed without a peep from you on here, despite the many empty promises I’ve heard you make to yourself. I thought you really loved this blog, yet you’ve essentially disappeared. But whatever. It happens.

Continue reading A letter to myself about mental health

All About the NSF GRFP!

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Hi all!

So this year, after two previous attempts, I was finally awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship! I guess third time’s really the charm, huh? Though I was going to make a similar post regardless of if I was awarded it, I thought this would be a nice way to add my own advice as to how to give this fellowship your best shot!

Continue reading All About the NSF GRFP!

The Care and Keeping of your Grad Student (Holiday Edition)

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December has arrived which means the holidays are just around the corner! And for those of you non-academics who happen to have a grad student friend/family member, this serves as a rare opportunity for you to finally interact with them! Because it’s during this time of the year that we grad students find ourselves emerging from our lab/office caves to remind our friends and families that we still exist in the world. Happy times all around! Or so you think…

Continue reading The Care and Keeping of your Grad Student (Holiday Edition)