How Grad School Has Changed Me | Pt.1


     For a year and half now I've been pursuing my dream to become Dr. Hinkle with a Ph.D in Genetics and Molecular Biology. I knew graduate school would change me, however, I anticipated most of this change to be step-by-step like the marathon that grad school is. Recently, I realized how much change has happened in just the past few months and knew I needed to write about it in order to process it. I then thought that throughout my graduate career I can continually revisit this topic because I knew there are many more changes to come. A disclaimer before I begin: what I list below aren't necessarily good or bad things, they're just different and come with their own positives and negatives and are thus in need of pondering.

Not all people can be pleased by data
      My job as a graduate student is to be skeptical. Skeptical of myself, skeptical of what research has been done, skeptical of scientific claims. This skepticism stems from a requirement to understand something scientifically in order to make judgement calls about it. My training is built upon this. I've even started a YouTube channel where another graduate student and I take scientific claims from the media and break the claims down as skeptic scientists and look at the evidence supporting the claims.
     Within this area of skepticism I've seen the most change in myself. Part of this change I've loved because I can see the blind spots in fields of study and think about ways to address them by really digging into the scientific literature. The other part of the change has driven me away from people who don't understand my skepticism about everything. Any time I see a claim about the next 'fat burning drink' or the 'magic pill to cure this symptom' my hackles immediately go up and the skeptic comes out. There are so many false claims out there and unless you know where to look for information and scientific studies (many of the scientific studies are not accessible to the public but there's a big push in science to make journal articles open access) it's easy to fall prey. This has been the hardest for me to deal with because I am often asked what I think about XYZ and people expect me to be super excited about what they're selling or what they're passionate about. When I respond with skepticism asking what studies were done with the magic pill, or what the ingredients are in the fat burning drink and how they work on a molecular level their smiles falter and I can tell that I have sorely disappointed them just by doing what I have been trained to do. I try to explain the science behind my reasoning but by not being supportive of what they or their friends are selling I've lost them and their respect. As a chronic people pleaser this has been really hard to deal with both mentally and emotionally because I'm doing what I've been trained to do.
      I used to be the person always in the middle, able to understand every side. But now, on certain issues, I take a strong stance because I've read the research and understand the science that is out there right now. I will be the first to admit that most areas of science have plenty of room for more research, but as a scientist I work with what information I have.

Time management
      I think back upon the hours and hours I spent watching the Office, Gilmore Girls and Friends with fondness, incredulity and criticism. On the one hand, laughing at Michael Scott's antics after a long day felt well-deserved. On the other hand, I wish I had used my time more wisely. Since getting married in July of 2017 and beginning graduate school in August of 2017 I have had to learn to manage my time on an hourly basis in order to get everything that I want to get done. Managing my time has always come easily to me but trying to balance marriage, grad school, family time, church activities, YouTube filming, weightlifting and still seeing friends has been like juggling 20 plates at once, hoping and praying they don't fall down. My current self laughs at my past self and the way I thought I managed time well then because now I feel like freaking SuperWoman some days.
        One of my chief joys in life is helping others out whether that be judging a science fair, serving with my church or helping someone with interview prep. Most of the time I force those things to work into my schedule at the detriment to my sleep, time with Steven and/or overall sanity. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at my calendar for the upcoming week and felt stabbing pains in my chest because I didn't know how I will get it all done. One of the wise, older adults in my life said "becoming an adult is just learning how to say no and to prioritize what is important to you." Never has that felt more true than now. I've had to learn how to be okay with saying no even when someone's face falls because I was the perfect person to do this one thing they needed. Being in these sort of situations has been crucial to learning how to get more done in less time. While being efficient with my time seems like a good thing, it's easy for me to focus on all the things I need to get done and neglect the people I love who need me to be mentally present with them. My time is something I'm constantly appraising and asking myself if I'm doing things that line up with my life's priorities.

Sticking to my guns
      Grad school is a carousel of feeling like you know nothing and knowing nothing but having to act like you know something and knowing something but not being completely confident in yourself to say that you know it. In my interactions with faculty, especially when I'm talking to them about research, I have to be sure of myself first, and my research second. If I show even just a little hesitation about what specific antibody I used, or gene event I looked at, my credibility goes out the window and I'm reduced to a sputtering graduate student that should remember what dilution they used. With certain male faculty, you also have to work much harder to prove yourself as a female. At times, being forced to be so sure of myself has been difficult to deal with, but it's also taught me to stick to my guns in other areas of my life (see point above). I'm in a field where you have to speak up for yourself and show people all the things you've done and how great you are. As a person who really doesn't like to toot my own horn this has been hard to grapple with, but my graduate mentor has been instrumental in helping me still stay humble but also give myself credit where it is due.

Everything is out of my control 
     I've probably been asked at least 30 times when I will graduate and my normal response is "hopefully in three and a half more years but it depends on the science." Science is not something that can be predicted, or planned or anticipated. That's why it's called research because you re-search again and again trying to find something biologically interesting that can serve as the basis for your thesis. As a planner, this has been the most amusing/frustrating thing about science to me. I even had one of my undergraduates that I mentor ask me why I'm in science if I want to plan for everything and make everything work. I laughed and thought about that comment a long time and decided that I stay on in science when it's hard because it's a place where God continually teaches me to rely on Him. My experiments may not go to plan, I often think I do not have enough time in my week to get everything done, people may not agree with me, but my joy in life does not and should not change because my foundation is set upon God and his love for me.

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