Grad School – Beyond Survival

Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia

Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia

A sensation of vague dissatisfaction has gnawed at me for a couple of months. It has been hard to articulate the reason or the source…so I’ve dealt with it by not dealing with it. I’ve been aware for those couple of months that something needs to change, however.

With the semester over I forced myself to confront the internal nagging.

For the most part I am happy. Stressed to a degree I’ve not been before, but happy. I’m short on time, but optimistic that I can streamline such things as my TA work (having created grading rubrics, I know that marking doesn’t need to take up as much time as it did in my first semester). I like the fact that I’m  being intellectually challenged and learning new things – the desire to become a better scientist through doctoral training has always burned fiercely within me. I’m getting a good quantity of social interactions from various sources.

Take a step back and I’m successfully tackling an important life goal: the American Chemistry PhD. I’m getting what I want.

And yet underneath all this runs dissatisfaction. Like a piece is missing or fitted in wrongly. Where is it coming from?

The language of my blog posts gives a good first guess. “Survival” has been a theme of a lot of my “grad school” posts: the notion that what I really must do is stick my head down and power forward until I bump up against the end of term. That all my energy needed to focus on the bare bones of grad school life – fulfilling my various duties as teacher, student, scientist – and to do attempt else was stupidly over-ambitious.

Upon reflection…stupid over-ambition has served me well in the past. It was probably a mistake getting rid of it.

Because survival isn’t the same as living. It wasn’t as bad as my recent stretch in Edinburgh where I had major cashflow issues to work around…but I’ve neglected a lot of things I enjoy and really the only thing going on in my life right now is a PhD. As a person who likes her mid-to-long term goals, it is no wonder I reached December feeling a bit deflated. I’m also not convinced that only focussing on getting through a PhD program actually helps me do that – becoming fixated on one thing increases my stress about it…but I suspect that added stress hinders me more than it helps.

There are a couple of immediate fixes. I want to get back into running and fitness – they are awesome ways to de-stress, plus I’d like to regain some muscle mass. A driver’s license is something I need – especially to eradicate the sensation of being “trapped” on campus. Working towards passing the test is a good medium-term goal to have. Even simple things like reading more or cultivating an arty hobby should allow me to exist beyond the immediate sphere of grad school.

Survival should be something I take as given in 2014. Finally.

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5 thoughts on “Grad School – Beyond Survival

  1. Pingback: Midnight In Philadelphia | St Andrews Lynx's Blog

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