Friday, November 12, 2010

Questions? Comments? Snarky Replies?

I had a brilliant thought today. So brilliant in fact, that I had to spring up from my temporary graduate student desk, thrust my arms into the sky, tilt me head back at an awkward (and painful) angle and shout - MUAHAHAHAHA! (Please  note: scientists typically do this once every few hours. It wakes up sleeping undergrads and boosts the morale of fellow lab members)

I decided today that it would be beneficial to you, the world (and by the world I mean Mom, Dad, Boyfriend, and Friends - aka my faithful followers), to offer up some questions of your own that I might seek out the answers to. My experiences can't possibly cover every minute detail of graduate school. The point of this blog is to answer questions for future graduate students out there. I can't do that if I do not know what those questions are. So, as long as I don't start receiving crazy, mean-spirited, uninformed comments - I'm leaving anonymous posts open for those of you too shy out there to leave your names. Ask me any question regarding graduate school, life as a student, etc, and I will try my very best to find the answer and report back to headquarters.

Until next time, dear readers, I bid you adieu.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If you're happy and you know it...take a shot!

So, it occurred to me overnight in my infrequent conversations with the Sandman that my blogs are starting to take on a negative nancy (Nathanial? Natasha? Noob?) kind of tone. It got me thinking that maybe I should write about the positives of graduate school.

Thus far I’ve discovered a new donut shop, which, I believe, is my personal gift from God. It’s His way of saying “grad school will suck more often than not. Have a donut to dull the pain.” In all seriousness, I’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks. I may not be performing as well in my classes as I’d like, or meshing with my peers as much as I’d like, but I am learning. And of those people that I have met and that I have befriended, they are amazing.

We all know that classes have the tendency to be dry and boring. Almost nothing changes when you get to graduate school. Most of my learning happens in the lab. I’ve had the pleasure of growing real live cancer cells and watching them shuck and gyrate underneath the microscope. I’ve recently done my first western blot and may even get the chance to engage is mass spec analysis. My principal investigator even told me that depending on the outcome of my project – there’s a very strong possibility for authorship on a paper, which is a big freakin deal! For those of you out there that have no background in science – just trust me: it’s awesome!  I’m surrounded every single day by people that are willing to teach me amazing things. It’s a blessing.

I’ve met people from Singapore (my room-mate), Germany, India, the Phillipines, etc. That’s one of the best things about Purdue, in my opinion – getting the chance to meet people from all across the globe.  I’ve met Boilermakers that bleed Black and Gold. It’s amazing that this tiny corner of Indiana can house so many people that have such spirit and excitement when it comes to Purdue University.

A few weeks ago, I got to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the very first time – acted out in front of a big screen. I will never forget that night (Great Scott!).  Tomorrow evening I’m going to my very first poetry slam (in which I wanted to perform, but am too chicken to do so).

It may seem like a paltry list in comparison to how much I’ve ranted about being sad and depressed here. But I am trying to be more positive. So I guess that’s the take away from today’s short (but sweet!) post – try to find the things that make you happy and focus on them.  I’m trying to make my weeks bearable by focusing on the things that I can get lost in – like poetry and movies.  Maybe from now on I’ll temper every frustrating aspect of my day with a positive, bubbly and uplifting one. I must admit that I am a pessimist to my very core so, we’ll see how long this new “focus on the creamy goodness in the middle Geek” lasts.

Until next time readers. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness (Geek Edition)

Hooo-weee biochemistry is kicking my butt! We’re already 10 days into this beautiful month and I have barely had time to even think about a blog post! My new lab occupies a large chunk of my time hoard, and by the time I get home the last thing I want to do is read a chapter. Needless to say, I’ve fallen behind – but I’m catching up. Who needs sleep anyway?

The real reason for this post, ladies and gents, is doubt. Doubt is a soul sucking leech upon the soul of defenseless graduate students. It makes us weary. It makes us weep. It makes us stop by McDonalds and grab an application mere seconds after deciding that flipping “beef” burgers all day is WAY better than pursuing  a masters or a PhD. I like to call doubt the silent dream killer. It’s very difficult to know when doubt has infected your life. It’s even harder to distinguish it from genuine unhappiness. This is the problem I find myself running into every single day (cue tiny violin).

For the past few weeks I’ve found myself questioning my desire to pursue science. If you were to ask me if I loved biology, I’d say yes. But the real question is do I hunger for it? I don’t have a periodic chart for a shower curtain (though I am actually the proud owner of a Virginia Tech Hokie edition periodic table- scaled down to fit in my wallet).  I don’t have a cancerous tumor painstakingly stenciled onto my ceiling (because, let’s face it, that’s creepy) nor do I have every amino acid tattooed on my inner arm (mostly because I’m sure that violates an honor code somewhere…). What I do have is a never-ending headache, a bed that serves no purpose because sleep is a foreign concept to me these days, and an incurable case of what may or may not be doubt. 

 I came to graduate school because I wanted to teach at the college level and beyond. I find myself making up lesson plans, coming up with ways to keep students engaged, lab experiments that I think students would love. I find myself critiquing my current professors teaching styles and trying to use what they do to make myself a better teacher. I want to teach. I want to mentor. I want to someday influence educational policy so that it benefits our students.  But, at the end of every day, I ask myself if science is necessary for me to do that.  It could be that I’m just stressed. It could be that I miss my boyfriend and my family and friends. It could be anything.

If any of you out there find yourself feeling like this – ask yourself if you could honestly wake up every day for the rest of your life and face science (or politics, business,  or whatever your chosen field may be) like it’s the best thing since stripper poles in the bedroom.  Whatever your particular situation may be, you have to try to stop and take a deep breath and deeply examine your situation. Determine if you are just slightly depressed or if you've chosen the wrong path for yourself.  If you’re currently enrolled in the first year of your program, give it until the end of the school year.  If you are considering graduate school, take the time to really examine why you're considering it. Talk to graduate students about what life is like and ask them to be honest with you about everything - the courseloads, advisor/student interactions, free time - EVERYTHING. Whatever path your are choosing or considering switching to, expose yourself to it. If you want to be a writer, take a creative writing class. If you want to professor - shadow a professor for a day and ask them about the work that went into making them a professor. Whoever or whatever you want to be when you grow up - attempt to expose yourself to it. 

As always, you should talk to someone about how you feel before you make any committed decisions. The best way to rid yourself of dark and gloomy thoughts is to expel them. Talk to a counselor, a mentor, a friend and get your thoughts out – the good and the bad. Remember: no one can make this decision for you. Not a parent, not a friend, not a significant other. At the end of the day you have to wake up every day and face the consequences of the decisions you’ve made – good or bad. Good consequences are otherwise known as achievements. When you accept the honor for them, do you want to say, “my Mom made me do it,” or do you want to say “that was ALL me. I’m me-tastic.” This is YOUR life. Maybe you should live it. 

I am personally waiting until May 2011 to make any final decisions. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll return to my site and find a woman that calls herself SciFiGeek or CancerBioGeek or just Geek.  It's just grad school, it isn't the end of the world. If I stay, I stay. If not, well then...HELLO STARBUCKS!

The key here is happiness. It always is, and it always will be. It is not in the pursuit of it that we prosper. It is in the ownership of it. The experience of it. And the desire to have it forever in our lives.  

I leave you with 2 quotes. I’m feeling particularly quotey today:

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” – Helen Keller

Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear.” – Cheri Huber