That’s right. I survived one year of grad school. Yay me.
As always, I wish I had found more time to record in details the ups and downs of my second semester, which was so much better than my first, and so much more leisurely as well. Unfortunately, with the little self-discipline that I have, I chose to spend the little free time I had to scout for new TV shows and binge-watch them (Tip to fellow TV fans out there: Justified, Orphan Black and Flashpoint. You won’t regret it) instead of writing down the multifaceted life as a grad student striving for excellence without, unfortunately, the necessary potential. Haha self-deprecating comments are always the best.
As usual, I had so many “I need to write this right now!” things/moments…
Every class in Islam and Politics could have been a blog post.
The sinking of the Sewol ferry in Korea and the utter lack of professionalism and all the dirty political plays the government was throwing out daily as pathetic attempts were worthy of multiple enraging posts.
The annoying people I had to face, often daily, would have drained my allotted share of sarcasm and patience.
I stopped myself, in time, from writing a controversial post on the right to abortion because I was so annoyed by all these “It’s not a choice, it’s a life” signs held by Catholics outside the Planned Parenthood building. I considered going in the building just to piss them off a couple of times.
Oh well. Life goes on.
Lessons learned as I finish my first year:
1. Work matters, but people often matter more. I have formed wonderful friendships I had not even dared imagined a year ago. It is a truly beautiful and inspiring feeling to know that I can still meet new people and feel a genuine connection with them. Behind the laughter, drinks, meals, sighs, frustration, confessions we have shared, lies something we all long for, despite knowing fully well that those of us who will have it are the lucky ones. And I was one of the lucky ones.
And then you also have your ‘old’ friends who never miss a moment to remind you that “Out of sight, out of mind” is not true when it comes to lasting friendships. Whether it’s a tag on a FB picture you’re not actually in because they know that you’re there in spirit, or a simple text/message that is just not about asking ‘how are you’, but to share a funny Youtube video you would have definitely watched together and laughed; friends know how to warm your heart.
Friends and family keep you sane and human, so make sure to have a couple of them around.
2. Sometimes, unfortunately, people don’t matter AT ALL. Here comes my anti-social side, so beware. Sometimes, they make you feel that work is the only thing that matters because that’s one thing you know you can do better by yourself, all alone. People’s never-ending complaints about the littlest things in life can completely ruin the jolly day you were having. I don’t know if it’s a university thing, or a grad-student thing, or, simply, a human thing, but I am constantly reminded of how ‘busy’ everyone is. The first person to unleash those “OMG I only slept 4 hours yesterday” or “OMG I have three 20-page papers to finish” is also the one to unleash the never-ending competition of “Who has the worst life”.
I always try not to talk about all the things I have to do (or at least, I think I do) because one, it’s nobody else’s business but mine, two, it’s my fucking job, and three, complaining about a 20-page paper won’t turn the paper into a 10-page one or extend the deadline. Unfortunately, most of the time, it seems that I’m the only one who thinks that way. Why doesn’t anyone realize it their job as students involves all this and that’s they way it is? I mean, you have food, somewhere to sleep, family or friends you can count on, isn’t that enough? Why this constant need to be validated by others that you are so, oh so busy? Isn’t knowing that you are spending your time doing your job enough? Do you really have to say “Oh, I only slept 3 hours and a half” to the person who just told you he/she slept 4 hours?
People feel so compelled to let the whole universe know that they’re busy that I think we are witnessing the development of a new modern disease. Really busy people don’t have the time or energy to advertise they’re busy.
Fortunately, most of these people aren’t usually your ‘friends’. Learn to feign concern and understanding, and then, go enjoy the nice weather, the sun, a good cup of coffee, a good TV show, a fun Youtube video. A marble pound loaf from Starbucks usually does the trick for me 😉
Talking about annoying people takes so much energy and passion out of me I almost feel I can’t go on with this list. (Maybe it’s time I get myself something sweet hehe)
3. No matter how much you know, there is ALWAYS something to learn, and there will ALWAYS be somebody who knows more than you. Be humble. Hopefully, sometimes, and at some time, you will be that someone who knows more for someone else.
4. There is ALWAYS room for improvement. Even if it’s making sure you don’t have typos in your paper. The same goes for your professors; the faster you know that your professors are not perfect, the less hurtful and disappointing it will be. That doesn’t mean that some professors cannot remain awesome.
5. Self-discipline is a necessary survival kit for grad students. Help is good, but if you’re confident enough to think that your achievements and successes are on you, then so are your failures and shortcomings.
6. Finding your field of expertise is fucking hard. You want something that is both interesting, exciting and that can somehow contribute to universal knowledge. Yeah, it’s hard. You’re expected not only to absorb knowledge but also produce your own. I know, it’s hard.
7. You will never hear enough of depressing comments and advice as a PhD student. How difficult and almost impossible it is to get a job, and I’m not even talking about a tenure-track job. How depressing and exhausting it is to look for jobs. How all these ‘post-doc positions’, ‘adjunct positions’, ‘visiting assistant professor’, ‘non-tenure track’, ‘community college teaching’ are just pretty words to cover the nasty reality of basically, YOUR failure of not getting a tenure-track professor position at a ‘decent’ university. Ha ha… As a PhD student, you need to take those words seriously, as in seriously consider that YOU will not be the exception that you think you are. But at the same time, you also need a filter to get them out of your system if you want to remain sane. Find your balance. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. And if you can’t… well, maybe it’s not meant to be.
8. I know PhD students are supposed to have their lives revolve around their studies, but (and believe me, I never once imagined in my life I would ever say this) a good physical work out can make everything better. Or any other hobby that doesn’t require too much of your brain and grey cells. I have never been, in my life, an athletic person. I was always one of those kids that got picked up last in PE class and whose pathetic efforts to somehow help the team only got laughed at. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still far from being an athletic person, I don’t think I will ever be. I will still scream and run away if a ball gets thrown at me. I will probably drop a ball while trying to throw it at someone – this happened once, but in my defense, the ball got caught in my headphones.
But as much as I used to hate any kind of physical work out, one of the (many) good things life in Boston has provided me is the constant presence of runners, anywhere and under any weather. To the point that it made me wonder if I was missing something by not doing something apparently EVERYONE else is doing.
It’s a great feeling, something that I almost never get when writing papers or digging into books I will forget about the minute I put them down, to know that I can now run 5 miles when I could barely run 1 last year.
You only get one life peeps, whether it’s as a miserable PhD student whose idea of a good meal is free meal at a conference or as a miserable investment banker who never has to worry about money. Let’s enjoy it.