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Posts Tagged ‘graduate school problems’

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If you are new to my blog, I am a graduate student. For me this means two very important things: 1) I like to find new and exciting ways to procrastinate instead of attempting the difficult work I have to do and 2) I am OFTEN stressed out and/or anxious and/or worried about a great many things. I do not like these things about myself, but I know I cannot change them overnight. So I have finally come up with a couple of “New Year’s resolutions” that will target these two things. In general, I want to procrastinate less and take better care of my anxiety/worry issues. These goals, while honorable, are rather vague and lofty. I also know I am not alone in having these problems, especially as a graduate student. If you want some better evidence than my word, take a look at PhD Comics. Read them. Realize you are not alone. Then realize that the only way out is through. (Or, you know, you could always quit. I would never think less of you for that, having had the experience I am having in graduate school. It’s just not my personal style to give up.)

I spend a lot of time being jealous of my friends who are no longer in graduate school, living their lives, working, coming home, and having the freedom to do what they want with their off-the-clock time. As a graduate student, we do not have off-the-clock time. Not really. I mean, sure, you need a mental health day a few times a month, but sometimes those are hard to justify with the amount of work we’re required to do. I honestly can’t wait for this experience to be over. But I cannot wish the next 8 months of my life away, and so I must change my attitude about it.

I have discussed my roller coaster emotions induced by my graduate school experiences. But I’ve never talked about my anxiety. It’s a personal issue, but it’s one that I know many people deal with every day. I also know that it is a manageable condition. A couple years ago I learned how to manage my anxiety really well. I was doing great.

Then I went to graduate school, left all my helpful tools for dealing with this problem at home, and anxiety has slowly crept back into my brain over the last year and a half. It’s annoying and frustrating. There’s a lot of self-doubt in graduate school (unless you are arrogant, which, you know, sometimes I wish I could be that in graduate school), a lot of pressure to get things done quickly – especially when you’re trying to do a 2-year Masters degree vs. a 5-6-year PhD. If you don’t think graduate school is stressful, you are wrong, or possibly not doing it right.

Anxiety is not an excuse, though. Yeah, it sucks, and it drags you through the mud, but it is never an excuse. I have come up with a few “resolutions” for this year to help me take control of my anxiety again. My hope is that in posting them here on my blog, I can hold myself accountable for them, and maybe even provide encouragement and/or help to people in similar situations. It’s possible the only person who is going to read this is my mother, but at least I can pretend that other people, people dealing with similar problems, will be in my corner cheering for me if I make this deal with the universe on my blog. I promise I’m in your corner.

My resolutions are these:

1. Limit my facebook usage to once a week, when I need to post my blog in my blog pact group. In order to accomplish this, I have signed out of the website on my laptop. I also don’t have facebook on my phone anymore, but I made that decision sometime ago last year. I’m only a couple days in, but it feels better already. Facebook for me is a time suck, and I would rather spend that time reading or getting more work done, or actually interacting with people in the physical world. This is more to target my procrastination issues than my anxiety, but it also helps reduce the guilt I may feel at perusing Facebook when I need to be doing something else.

2. Exercise daily. Even if it’s just the short 4-block walk from my car to campus and back. Everything I’ve read lists exercise as the number one way to get anxiety under control. It’s science. Not science I understand, because I’m a geologist rather than a biologist or chemist, but it is tangible. I notice the difference when I exercise vs when I don’t. If walking isn’t your thing, and you want to try this too, I highly recommend one of those 7-minute workout apps, specifically one that rewards you for reaching goals, like working out 3-days in a row, or for 30 minutes, or whatever. This is my first line of defense against anxiety.

3. Go to sleep earlier/sleep more. This will consist of only allowing myself ONE episode of TV on my iPad in bed, or none at all, and reading. When I am horizontal and reading, it is very easy for me to fall asleep. It’s easier with my kindle, because I don’t have to worry about turning a light off (but I might even get a new lamp that allows me to just hit it – anywhere – to turn it off). I also need to be better at getting up in the morning, so I can justify stopping working and heading home from campus when I no longer wish to continue for the night. Going to sleep earlier seems like the best place to start. Also, better sleep means less anxiety. This particular method may not work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with anxiety and worry like I am, find a method that works for you.

4. Re-educate myself on dealing with anxiety. Join a therapy group. Read articles online about methods for dealing with anxiety. Read inspirational quotes about managing anxiety. Do one of those thought-journal things. These are all things that will aid in my re-education (and that reminded me of Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series and the last book is coming out soon yay!), and they might help with yours, too. Managing anxiety is all about having a toolbox of skills and methods to help you. Yes, it takes work, but the place to start is building that toolbox.

5. Eradicate the word “should” from my vocabulary. “Should” is a terrible word. It brings with it massive negative connotations, and heaps of guilt when it’s directed at yourself. This is something I do remember from my days of well-controlled anxiety. Replace it with words like “need” or “want.” It can also lead you to make life decisions that contradict what you actually want to do with your life, and that doesn’t help anyone. “Should” is an awful word. Get rid of it.

Five resolutions kind of feels like a lot, but I think they are all manageable because they are directed, and they’re all stepping-stones toward my overarching goals for this year.

Also, this is a fantastic thing to read if you struggle with stress/anxiety as much as I do. It’s on Captain Awkward’s website, written by Elodie Under Glass as a guest post. The Thought Catalog is also a great resource for tips to deal with anxiety. I recently found their list of inspirational quotes about anxiety to be helpful. Sure, some of them are kind of cheesy, but there are some really good ones in there that I’m going to try to keep in mind this year.

I feel better already having just written this, and I hope this post meant something to those of you who are struggling with anxiety as well. It is not the end of the world. We can manage this.

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Let me tell you a story.

On a dark and stormy night back in my sophomore year of college, a horrible thing happened.

My hard drive crashed.

It was epic. It was the kind of crash where your computer makes weird noises, and instead of a nice, clean, apple logo, I got a frowning folder telling me everything was gone. And I mean everything. Photos, documents, manuscripts, class assignments (luckily nothing I was currently working on), a few applications… The loss of the photos (even though my dad had some of them, and facebook had the best ones) and my novel manuscripts was the most devastating. The crying-in-the-bathroom-alone kind of devastating (it was an on-campus apartment, so I didn’t have my own room). I was pathetic. AND it was during NaNoWriMo, so I was doubly upset that I’d lost that particular manuscript. I wasn’t anywhere near finishing, but I liked the story enough to want to pick it up later. There was a really great scene about pancakes… Ok, maybe it wasn’t that great, but it was NaNoWriMo, and it seemed like a great idea at the time.

“Why is this so devastating if she backs things up like a sensible person?” you might be asking right about now.

Yeah, I, uh, didn’t.

I was in a more naive phase of being an Apple user where I thought this sort of thing could never happen. It’s Apple after all, they don’t get viruses, blah blah blah. Don’t worry, I’m still in love with Apple products, despite the expense, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, I was an idiot, and didn’t have anything backed up. I might have had a few things in dropbox by that point, but not my manuscripts, and not my photos. To me, this was the end of the world.

I have since obtained an external backup hard drive that I use with Apple’s Time Machine, backed up everything important in Dropbox, and even put all my thesis stuff (and a few other things) on another portable hard drive. Oh, and I also backed up my thesis stuff to the department’s servers. I have a multitude of redundancies when it comes to backing up my data.

Which is why last night’s computer troubles were not nearly so terrifying as my hard drive crashing all those years ago. This time, I was prepared. Though, I hadn’t ever needed to reformat or restore my system before, so it was terrifying in that sense. But at least this time I knew everything important was safe. Theoretically. I still don’t totally trust technology. It may have taken a million hours, but I’m right back where I left off yesterday before I had to perform a brain reboot operation on my computer.

Point of the story: back up your stuff. Hopefully this is not a message most people need to hear anymore, as there are enough horror stories out there to scare people into being redundant. But just in case, here’s my story, and my advice is to BACK UP YOUR SHIT. Often, and in several different places.

Don’t be stupid-sophomore-me. It’s not worth it.

Now, back to the microscope!

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about how being in graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. It was kind of a negative post, because I was on the uphill side of a really sweet hill of said roller coaster. Yes, the semester is still winding down, but so is my to-do list. I am so much closer to only having teaching and research responsibilities in my life.

And it feels fantastic.

The Thanksgiving holiday certainly helped a ton as well. I am one seminar (which requires me to critically read a scientific paper in my field of research), 2 classes, and 1 final exam away from being alone with my research (and teaching, but that’s easy and fun).

As for my research, I’m focusing on “point counting” right now, which is difficult, but pretty straightforward. Basically, I’m looking at very thin slices of my rocks under a polarized light microscope.

microscope

I move the slide around in a grid pattern controlled by the microscope stage, and identify whatever lands under the cross hairs. I have to identify 500 “points” of the basic “framework grains” (the more common things found in sedimentary rocks like quartz, feldspar, and rock fragments), and keep track of them in a spreadsheet.

microscope

That’s it.

I mean, distinguishing between different rock types when all you have is a fragment the size of a fine grain of sand is often difficult. But after a while you get used to what certain things look like, and your options are just volcanic, metamorphic, and sedimentary (yes, you can have fragments of sedimentary rocks in a sedimentary rock, though they are generally more rare in sandstones, which is what I’m looking at). There are a few other things I have to identify, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Essentially, this is what’s ahead for me for the next two months of graduate school research.

This, and the Christmas/my birthday holiday of course! This is my giant skylight in the tunnel that is graduate school. It’s going to be a perfect time to recharge and relax and have some fun. Even if it is only 10 days. But I haven’t been home since March, and I’ve been working really hard, so I’m pretty sure I deserve this break.

The point of this post is to prove that graduate school is indeed a roller coaster of emotion. You’ll have weeks where everything piles up on top of you and you can’t even begin to think of a way to dig yourself out. Then you’ll have weeks where everything feels like it’s falling into place and you’re moving right along with the progress of your work.

Granted, things can change in an instant with a few simple words from your advisor, but this can be bad or good. Honestly, I was afraid to tell my advisor I’d be going home just for 10 days because I have very little work I can do remotely right now. After I told him, I realized it was a completely irrational fear. It’s only 10 days. It’s a freaking family holiday, and I didn’t leave town last year. I have no reason to feel guilty for doing this. He also didn’t seem to care AT ALL.

My advice to those of you starting graduate school or thinking about going back to school – it’s really hard, but it’s also very rewarding, and you will have your ups and downs. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and don’t beat yourself into the ground over nothing. And for those of you who are in the thick of it – if things are looking bleak, remember that they’ll probably change in a week or two, so try not to worry about it too hard. Just keep making progress.

You can do anything for a year, and you can do many things for two years. I can’t speak for PhD candidates, but this much I know about getting a two-year degree.

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