When you fall for the glam and glitz in graduate school

You know those kinds of blog posts or tweets where you ask for help for a friend? Well, I wish I could say that this post is to help a friend, but in reality, I’m shamelessly asking for help for myself. If you don’t want to read through the entire blurb, skip to the very last paragraph.

After working long hours and weekends, I am burning out, and I feel that I am not as passionate about science as I used to be. The idea of being a smart, academic woman is something that attracted me; in other words, I fell for the glam and glitz. However, this phd thing has been the complete opposite. There is nothing glamorous about being a science phd student (except maybe, that some students call you professor when you’re a TA).

All my respect goes to my professors, advisors and people who genuinely care about advancing science. I have nothing against being passionate about something that is so dear to people’s hearts. Quite contrary, I am inspired by people’s passion toward something. And after all, I will always be a science nerd. It’s the process of getting there that I am not so sure about anymore.

Some people have compared the process of getting tenured (I originally thought I wanted to be a PI) to a marathon, and another one I heard recently, to climbing the Everest. The things is, I’m not thrilled about making it to the finish line, or getting to the top of the highest mountain, or being called professor. Ironically, I’m not interested in that kind of glam and glitz. With the proper training, planning, and motivation, many people have done it and continue to do it. Kudos for them. But in wanting to climb the Everest, there’s a reason behind it. I’m not interested in doing it just to prove that I can do it.

Yesterday I had an epiphany. Okay, it was more like a “duh, you’ve known this for a long time” moment, but regardless, it made me re-think about where I’m headed with my life. It’s kind of like when you fall out of love with someone you weren’t even in love with in the first place.  You try to convince yourself that this person/thing is what’s best for you for many reasons, but you know deep inside that it is not. That, my friends, is exactly how I felt yesterday (with all the due regrets).

But hold your horses. It was sad to realize it, but at the same time it opened a world of possibilities in front of me. What would I do if this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing with my life? What wouldn’t I do? I would be free. And I wouldn’t have to depend on the opinions of others to believe that I’m worth something.

The thing is, I’m not sure I need a PhD anymore. Or maybe you think I’m burned out and I just need a break. What I do know, though, is that I want to stay in a university setting, but I want to work with people (not necessarily teaching). Tweeps, blogging academic community, I want to hear from you. I want to hear from those of you who stayed and are making great careers in academia, those of you who left academia but not science, and those of you for whom the process was so painful that looking back was not an option.

I’ll be happy to hear what you have to say!

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5 thoughts on “When you fall for the glam and glitz in graduate school

  1. It’s been said that a person can change their career 5-7 times in their life. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that you’re changing your path a bit.

    It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, and even though I’m headed for grad school, I’ve thought about other careers I might enjoy. One is being an academic counselor to help students actually figure out where they might want to go and to make sure they take the right classes.

    Anyway, I think it’s great that you’re taking a step back and re-evaluating. I wish you all the best!

    • This would be my second career change, so I guess it’s not that bad, right?

      Yes, the decision to go to graduate school is a major one. When you’re fresh out of college and don’t know what to do with your life, it’s easy fall into the trap. Many factors have to be considered, and I’m not saying grad school is a bad thing, it’s just something that requires a lot of thought and a lot of factors in place, like a strong determination, a great support network, and even where you decide to pursue you PhD can affect the success rate.

      I don’t regret my choices because in one way or another, they are leading me to what is best for me. I have a learned a great deal about myself and how I work better, so that is a win situation. I still have more soul-searching to do, but I’m getting there.

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your studies :)

      • Of course it’s not bad! I’ve had quite a few jobs, mostly teaching-related, so I feel like I am making the right decision to continue on that route.

        I’m doing research right now too and I really enjoy it and the grad student I work with is amazing in that he lets me see his thought processes and how he figures out what to do next.

        Thanks so much and I’m looking forward to see what you decide! :)

  2. I’m a year from the regular end of my PhD. If in a year I will indeed have enough data that my PI will let me graduate is doubtful. For various reasons that even I can’t elucidate, my advisor – who is also my PI, my boss and the person who is ultimately paying my salary – and I have run into trouble with each other.

    I loved science. I wanted to be a scientist because I loved science. I have since re-evaluated what I want and what I need in my life. I still love science. And I have invested so much blood and so many tears in this that I don’t want to abandon the degree, even if nothing is working right now.

    What I can’t and don’t want to do is permanently stay in a place that makes me miserable

    And I don’t want to follow the well worn grooves of science either, I don’t want to be a PI and end up behind a desk. I don’t enjoy writing grants and coming up with a new project every day. I don’t want to have to pressure my people into producing results.

    The jury is still out on where my future goes, but depending on how far along you are in grad school, maybe gritting your teeth for a while longer might be an idea. Believe me, I’m not saying that lightly, I know how soul destroying this can be.

    • Thank you for your comment. Even though I have a good relationship with my PI so far, there are many things about this process that I don’t agree with and that seem pointless to me. But you’re right in many aspects. If I give up at this point, I will be looked down upon for the rest of my career. There’s a quote that I have by my lab bench “Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever.” I will just have to figure out a way to make things more manageable for the next three years.

      I’m sorry that you are going through a situation like that, but thanks for sharing your experience. Sometimes the pain blinds me and I think I’m the only one going through this, but I know I’m not alone. Hugs to you!

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