This is the first post from the new Blogging Room of Stately Lowe Manor here in Massachusetts. The internet is hooked up, the lights are on, and I'm surrounded by boxes no matter where I turn.
I had a few requests to do more posts on graduate school and what goes on there. Problem is, it's becoming an increasingly distant event for me (which in most other ways is not much of a problem at all!) There's one immediate thing I can think of to say to people who are still in the middle of it, though: Don't worry. You're not going to be stuck like this forever.
I'm thinking of what a generally foul mood I was in throughout my PhD work, compared to my overall sunnier disposition since. I didn't like having to work on the exact same molecule for years, and I didn't like having to do it days, nights, weekends, and holidays. I especially didn't like that little voice in the back of my head that took up residence there, telling me - every moment that I wasn't in front of my fume hood - that I should stop goofing off and get back to work.
And I wondered if the experience had permanently damaged me. I really worried about that. When you're younger, these thoughts occur to you if you've got any introspective tendencies at all, and my working hours gave me plenty of time for thinking about such things. Was I ever going to wake up and feel enthusiastic about going to work in the lab? If not - and there seemed a real chance that the answer was, in fact, "Never again" - how was I going to make any sort of worthwhile life for myself? After all, here I was committing a good slice of my 20s to getting an advanced degree in a field whose same advanced degree might be ruining my chances of ever using it.
No wonder I was surly. I wasn't sure I was doing the right thing, and I wasn't sure what shape I'd be in if I stopped or if I kept going. Admittedly, I never seriously considered the first option. The going didn't get really rough until I was in far enough that the shortest way out was at the other end. I knew that I could hang in long enough to get the degree; what I didn't know was what kind of shape I'd be in after I got it.
Well, as it turned out, I was fine. My worries, though real, were overblown. It took a while on my post-doc in Germany, but my brain proved to be more resilient than I'd feared, and it soon bent back to its usual shape. I stopped feeling as if the dogs were chasing me when I wasn't in the lab on, say, Sunday nights or the day after Christmas. And I started enjoying the times that I did go in. Not being up to my elbows in lab work all the time made it fun when I did it out of choice. No permanent damage seemed to have occurred.
Actually, I came out of the experience stronger than when I went in, for having gone through it without breaking. So, if you're trying to finish up your last year or two of a degree, and you feel as if it's never going to end, take it from me: it does. And if you think that you can't stand the time remaining, prepare to surprise yourself, because odds are very good that you can. And no, you won't always feel like you do on your worst days in your grad school lab. That's not the real world; it's just pretending to be.