note to self:

daisyfae has a really fantastic post up – a letter written to her 16 year old self. i thought of doing something similar, but 16 years old was one of the roughest patches i’ve been through – i left home, became an emancipated minor, and had to grow up way too fast. and those aren’t the things i want to think about over coffee on a saturday morning. some other time, perhaps. but today i need the motivation to get my act together and get through this god damn PhD while being immersed in an environment of graduate student apathy. so this is more or less the letter i would hope to receive from my 45 year old self on a day like today.


dearest little fish:

first things first: you survive graduate school. not only do you survive, you thrive. it took a little longer than most for you to find your field and your passion and a PI that you legitimately respect (most of the time), but you stop letting that lag be your crutch and instead use it to motivate you. sure, your fellow graduate students, for the most part, feel entitled to leave after 8 hours of work, and can’t be found on the weekends. but that’s ok. you keep adjusting your schedule so that it works for you – coming in at 6 am and leaving as soon as all bench work is done to head to the library – where you can work without distraction. you keep tweaking and adjusting your environment so that you can be the most productive. and you know what? you start bringing in your own funding to supplement your salary as well as go to conferences, and you stop trying to be a people-pleaser, and instead immerse yourself in this period of dedicated self-interest.

and when Q said you were the most likely student out of the current graduate students to go on and become a tenure-track PI at a tier-one school because you’re the only one who had the balls to be a bitch when necessary – he was right. he was also right when he told you to survey your battles before engaging, because sometimes the right thing to do isn’t always the ideal thing. learn these lessons now and start applying them.

you also stop being shy at meetings and conferences – and start introducing yourself to PI’s that you find interesting. even if it means re-introducing yourself at the next meeting. because this is part of the network you’ll build and rely on for the rest of your life. you were always good at socializing (even if you did hate it) and you need to put those skills to work. yesterday. you also stopped worrying about hurting people’s feelings. you never go out of your way to crush someone, but when feelings are hurt you apologize – but stop wasting the effort when that person continues to wallow in their feelings of self-pity. you start to realize what you’re capable of changing, and stop worrying about the rest.

at some point before your comprehensive exam you kill your tv. well, you stop watching hulu – you don’t have a tv. because while it’s ok to crash out on a friday night after a long work week and eat junk food and watch a whole bunch of episodes, the weekly searching for crappy shows instead of reading articles or interesting books starts to really hinder your productivity. you’re going to realize that down-time is important, but that you don’t need three hours of it every single night.

oh, and that fantastic guy you met ten years ago and have kept in touch with and are currently involved in an odd long distance relationship that is working out beautifully? yeah, he proposes and you say ‘yes!’ and you two will raise two beautiful children (one adopted, as planned) and he will support you in your scientific endeavors no matter what, because he believes in you and the work that you do. he is the only one who knows the truth about you – and it dazzles him.

it turns out that running is your sport – especially distance running. the work you started to put in as a graduate student carries you through some stressful times, and you log some serious miles. you’re never a serious competitor, but your dreams of running in boston are eventually achieved – but not until much later than you originally anticipated.  as for those mountains – you keep climbing them. you learn the skills necessary to climb them with ease and grace, and relish the adventure. you never really push yourself out of your comfort zone on those peaks – and you know that you will never climb K2 or everest, but you’re ok with that. a few trips to the himalayas just to see those mountains are all that you need.

you turn out more than ok little fish – but you need to start putting in the time and the effort now. you love to procrastinate, and there will come a point where its going to get you into a lot of trouble if you don’t learn to change your ways. but you’ll change and adapt. i have no doubt about that.




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4 responses to “note to self:

  1. i like this approach. probably a little more productive than yelling at a past self, encouraging a future self to do what you already know you need to do! onwards…. and in your case, upwards, too!

  2. Natalie

    First off, this is a really nice post and maybe I’ll write one of these for myself. However, I do have to take issue with your comments regarding your fellow graduate students. You see, I’m one of those students who “feels entitled” to 8 hour work days and doesn’t set foot in the lab on weekends. What difference does it make to anyone else what my personal goals in life are? How does that affect anything you do? What do you care if I have absolutely no desire to be a tenure-track PI at a tier-one school? I just think people in grad school would be so much happier if they just worried about themselves.

    • natalie – you bring up an *excellent* point about entitlement that i didn’t really flesh out thoroughly. i agree with the “eyes on your own plate” philosophy – and there are definitely graduate students who get everything accomplished in 40 hours a week. me, i’m not one of them. but oh, how i wish! what i’m trying to convey is more the level of apathy of my fellow graduate students. for the most part, they’re here because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives – they don’t enjoy science, and they don’t enjoy talking about science. to them, graduate school is a steady salary while they figure the rest of their lives out and spend most days on the ski hill. which is fine – i just thought that there would be more people in graduate school because they were passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s been a real wake-up call for me, in that i struggle to develop interactions with other students who just think that science is cool.

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