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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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