Reflections on a Month in Grad School

I’ve officially been a doctoral student for a month now and I’m starting to settle in.

I’ve met a bunch of new people and can even remember most of their names. I know what my class schedule is and no longer have to actively navigate trying to find the classrooms. I’m getting a sense of the culture, the expectations, and how to manage my time. I have organized my desk.

I am having so much fun.

People keep telling me to hold on to that feeling: that flush from the first year of grad school where everything is exciting, commitments are minimal, and I just feel so privileged that this is how I get to spend my time.

I imagine someday I’ll be the one advising first year students to hold on to that feeling, but for now I’m just savoring every moment.

I couldn’t sleep last night, so at 2am I got up and worked a bit on my homework. It was so much fun. Even when it’s hard its fun.

But the little things are remarkably disorienting. This week I had a different commute every day – different buses, different trains – all varying by where I needed to be and when. On more than one occasion, I got momentarily “lost” on commutes I’ve done many times. Where am I? Where am I going? The answer is not always clear.

It’s hard to compare the pace of school to the pace to work. From work, I’m used to long days, working all the time, and constantly having to put out fires. In school, I have long days and work all the time, but the overall stakes seem much lower (for the moment!). I haven’t had to deal with a single crisis. There’s something amazingly luxurious about that. I’m savoring that for sure.

But at work, I knew what I needed to do. I could put out fires because after 8 years I’d developed the skill I needed, the connections I needed, and the knowledge and experience to troubleshoot effectively. The pace was intense and the hours were long, but I could accomplish an amazing amount in a relatively short amount of time.

School is very different. I’m still developing the skills, knowledge, network, and experience – in fact, developing those is precisely why I’m here. The pace is slower, but it’s by necessity – each task takes significantly longer. I have to figure out what I am trying to do before I can figure out how to try to do it.

I have been particularly tired for the last month. Tired in a specific way that is different from usual. Interestingly, it’s the kind of tired I felt the whole time I was living in Japan. At first, I’d thought it was the jet lag, but after six months I was still just tired. I was tired then because I was constantly processing – mentally translating Japanese into words I could more familiarly understand, learning new cultural skills, and continually inundated by unfamiliar input.

So I guess that’s kind of what grad school has been like. There’s been a lot of new sensory input. I am learning a lot, but there is always more to process. It’s like I can feel my neural pathways forming.

It’s a slow, deliberate and incredibly exciting experience.

Hold on to that feeling.

 

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