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!
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…
I’ve said it once (many times, actually) and I’ll say it again: academia can be a really shitty place when it comes to your mental health. Yes, your academic adventures can result in a variety of extremely rewarding experiences–there’s no doubt about that–but when your forced to survive this high-stress environment that expects you to juggle heavy workloads, long hours and high expectations on top of the rest of your adult life… Let’s just say that even the most dedicated students can start succumbing to the pressure.
I was warned, even before I started grad school, that there will be at least one point during my five-year PhD where I would get stuck. It might be because a key experiment won’t work for weeks on end or the data I manage to get simply isn’t adding up—whatever it was it would be a very obnoxious rough patch and getting over it definitely wouldn’t be easy. In fact, I might find myself even tempted to quit.
But young, naïve little Krystal kind of just shrugged off the thought. That won’t happen to me, I assured myself. Besides, even if it does, I’ll get over it because I’m doing what I love! That’ll be enough to pull me through, right? I just have to keep the end goal in mind! Right?
When I applied to the NSF Fellowship the first two times, I was just in the midst of switching fields and starting grad school. As such, I didn’t have a research project, nor did I have any real knowledge of what kind of research was going on in my new field. So, when fellowship season came around and I was was asked to write a “novel” research proposal, I just about panicked. How would I ever come up with legitimate research question in a field I was unfamiliar with?
Now, one year later I am being forced to come up with research questions for candidacy–on topics not even related to my research! So, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how I’m planning on approaching this, in hopes that it might help some of you in similar predicaments.
Recently, a few people asked me on Tumblr what I keep in my office or how they can step up their “cubicle-game,” as someone so hilariously called it. Well, I’m not in any cubicle, but I am very happy to answer this question since I’m one of those people that is greatly effected by my work environment. So, to show you guys all the tidbits and trinkets I surround myself with, I have taken the challenge of sneakily taking pictures of my (shared) office space without looking like a complete weirdo! I was…only mildly successful, but since that’s besides the point, on with the show! 😀 (Warning, this is a very picture and link heavy post. You have been warned.)
First off, let’s get an overview of my office, which is basically an open room with three desks set up on each side, as shown. Everyone gets a shelf, a bulletin board wall and a filing cabinet. My place is by the window because I love natural light, so if you have a choice on seating placement, keep that in mind. Here’s my office:
Another personal post? What is this? I guess I just have a lot of feelings going into my second year which apparently get written out at 2 AM when I’m home alone (which means this was written last week. So hello from past Krystal!) Don’t worry! There are some tips at the end and if you don’t want to read through all the narrative, feel free to skip straight there.
I’ve been feeling a giant lack of motivation lately in just about everything in my life. And this is bad…because I feel like I have a lot to do. I have to write. I have to figure out the next step in lab. I have to figure out what the hell this pile of data means. I have to sort of, kind of start thinking about candidacy. And I have to appear like I’ve made some sort of progress before I have a meeting with my boss in October. Yikes! It’s gotten to the point where I feel that if I keep feeling unmotivated like this–if i keep procrastinating–everything is just going to go to pure…shit, for lack of a better word. And shit is not what I want in my life right now. So, in a desperate effort, I’ve been trying to pinpoint the reason for all these negative feelings (and by pinpoint I mean lying on the floor, blasting angsty music in my hears wondering why the world hates me) and I think that I’ve finally narrowed it down.
I have been doing a lot of reading lately. A lot of reading. I’ve been scouring through the literature so I can have a solid foundation before/while I write my NSF fellowship proposal for this year…the last year I can apply. However, as I’ve been reading, I’ve noticed that my methods of going through my many, many piles of papers has changed since this time last year. Perhaps it’s because instead of reading just to read, I’m actually reading for information; to appear like less of a dumbass in my field. And because my methods have changed so much since the last time I wrote about this, I asked Tumblr if I wanted to see an updated version of this kind of post and I got an astounding:
So here we are…Again.
I shall note that the following tips are just what happens to work for me at this point in my academic career and I’m still modifying my methods as I go along (so stay tuned for next year?). This is probably a good reading technique if you’re just gathering background information, but may not necessarily work if you’re combing through methodology or doing anything more critical… Either way, I’m simply hoping that if anyone is struggling to read papers, this or last year’s post can at least provide good starting points in order to develop your own way of reading papers. Anyway, moving on!
I feel stuck and I don’t know why.
Everything is telling me that I should be having the time of my life.
I’m going to my dream grad school. I’m working in a discipline that I love. I’ve successfully survived my first year. And terms such as “intelligent”, “smart” and “successful” have been used to describe me–to describe my life. I mean, I suppose if I were to look at my CV I could maybe shrug in agreement…
But I don’t feel it.
I don’t see it.
And here I am… Stuck. Anxious. In a rut. And scared that my life has been a horrible mistake. That I don’t really belong here. That I’m an imposter.
I made a request a week ago for blog posts ideas, and this was one that made me extremely excited to write because I struggle with this all the time. In fact, when I went to a therapist to deal with anxiety issues, this was probably the number one things that was talked about during our sessions.
What was the question?