It’s yet another late evening for me, but the urge to write about grad school permeates my every thought and that thirst must be quenched before I meet the sandman. Graduate education is, surprisingly, a hard earned lesson in politics, which is not something I’m good at if you have not noticed. I’ve become privy to a few observations made about my character over the last few days. To sum it up: I’m unapproachable; lacking in confidence as a scientist; possibly flippant (I believe that was the particular word chosen); and maybe a few other things that I’ve yet to be informed of. (Cue deep inhalation.) Really? Me? Flippant? Ha!
I’m a first year graduate student who has been inundated with a constant barrage of articles, books, discussions and presentations that remind me every single day of just how much I do not know. I approach everything that I do with an honest perception of the knowledge I possess and that which I do not, and how that will benefit or hinder me. I think being unsure of one’s current abilities comes with the territory. I’ve got a lot to learn and I’m prepared to do it. But if I don’t know it, I don’t know it and I’m not going to pretend like I do. I came to grad school because I wanted to expand upon my pool of knowledge. When in lab, it is my purpose to absorb as much as possible and be taught. I contribute when I can, but, for the most part, I want to make sure that I don’t mess up thousands of dollars worth of materials and waste anyone’s time, least of all mine. (Time is a hot commodity for any graduate student. You must hoard it like a dragon and claw out the eyes of anyone that tries to take too much of it. Or, you could use your lab time to create a 28 hour period. Your choice. )
I had no clue how to respond to being told that I lack confidence and am seemingly standoff-ish, so I said nothing…well, as much “nothing” as I’m capable of saying. I’m not sure I can respond without somehow alienating someone that could potentially hold sway over my graduate career. It is very difficult knowing how sensitive some people are to blunt honesty. The last few days have shown me that people hear what they want to hear, no matter how careful I am with my word choices. I worry how many times I’ve “offended” a peer or professor or lab mate because I wasn’t enough of a politician. Unfortunately, these minor things could morph into major, life altering issues. I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s happened – just look at our government or consider the recent media storm surrounding Juan Williams, former host on NPR. Be careful of politics. You don’t have to play the game to be aware of it.
I’ve come to realize that for many scientists, perception is reality and, let’s face it, you can’t really call yourself a scientist if you don’t gather data, analyze it, weigh the evidence and THEN draw a conclusion. So, audience, when you get to grad school (or are currently there trying to swim against the riptide), just remember who you are and try to stay true to that. Remind yourself every day of why you chose graduate school, and don’t let anyone’s “evidence” negatively influence you and detract from who you are at your core.
I am aware of who I am and what I am capable of, but maybe my sense of self-importance isn’t inflated enough for grad school. Ah, well. Maybe in a few years I’ll be the pompous, arrogant bastard I’m supposed to be, but today, I’m just Neurosciencegeek. I can be honest to a fault and sarcasm is literally listed as second language on my resume. I get excited when my boyfriend calls. I post in front of my television to watch Glee every Tuesday night. And I’m trying my very best not to drown in the flash flood that is grad school. I do not wear confidence on my sleeve.
I leave you with this quote: “That which yields is not always weak –“ Jacqueline Carey