Towards Serenity

Evolution of the Grad Student.

Evolution of the Grad Student.

Gone are the days when I could drift off to sleep at 8pm from the comfort of my fungi-ed Edinburgh flat – partly out of deference for my early starts, but mainly because I didn’t have anything better to do. Gone too are the days when I had hour(s) to kill and could loiter around in coffeeshops. Gone as well are the days when I felt aimless.

I think the first month of grad school is the busiest I’ve been in a long time…perhaps ever. Despite the parallels to my final year at the University of Edinburgh, I have a lot more responsibilities now. Teacher. Researcher. Student. Lab reports to grade, weekly updates to create, problem sets to complete.

I’m still relatively new here – it is hard sussing out what my current output equates to. Will I be failing the course exams ’cause I’m not reading enough? Is my performance in the lab about right for a first year grad? The uncertainty is an absolute bitch, although I’m doing my best to compartmentalise it.

At the moment I’m waking up at ~7.30am of my own accord – since I hate alarm clocks. It isn’t uncommon for me to roll into bed at 11pm or later – which is quite radical for somebody who naturally tends towards early mornings, early evenings. I suspect bedtime is gonna get even later before too long – at present there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

“The thing about grad school is that there is always something more you could be doing,” commented a friend of mine recently. How true. Do you stay an extra 2 hours in lab to run another reaction, or go home with a guilty conscience?

Although I’m working harder, I think that I’m still keeping afloat. There is an overwhelming pressure on me to become more efficient with my time:  I need to learn how to mark faster by cutting out the procrastination, breaks and attention wandering. Else the weekly marking load is going to take up 2 days or happen in a rush after midnight – neither of which is ideal.

Most importantly, I’m glad to be here. I enjoy being a PhD student. I’m generally getting on well with folk. It is a challenge balancing those 3 roles…but they are all roles I’m happy with. I’m absurdly grateful for the income that is 3 times what I was earning just a couple of months ago.

***

How is the stress of grad school affecting me?

The concern is that the more stress I experience, the more confrontational I’ll become. I think that my current response to stress is a shorter temper and lower tolerance thresh-hold. I can’t afford to piss people off in grad school – not when I’m juggling those 3 roles – nor do I want to turn into that kind of person.

Managing the grad student workload is relatively straightforward: keep adjusting ’til it all fits into the hours. Managing the grad student stress is a lot more challenging…but I would say more important. Stress has a detrimental effect on ability to do work – in an ideal scenario a heavy workload wouldn’t induce a lot of extra stress and my productivity would remain high.

Calmness appears in the tiniest moments. The sensation of sinking underneath the duvet and drifting off to sleep. A cup of green tea. A train ride somewhere else. Pesto pasta with a mound of fried onions. The moment when I wake up to sunlight and realise I’ve got an extra hour with my Nespresso machine before I need to be anywhere. It still seems to balance out – stress and serenity – it is just that one is becoming more dilute, the other more concentrated.

I’ll hold on to the balance. I know I will.

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