The ugly, ugly side of graduate school

I have been in summer mode for a while, so this morning I woke up late. Yet, the first thing I proceeded to do automatically, was to check my social network accounts. I checked my Twitter first, and one of the tweets that caught my attention right away was a retweet from biochem belle. Not good. Actually, it was so bad that I was upset the entire morning.

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Very few things push my buttons to the extreme. And what you see above, really does. We, the naive graduate students, come to grad school with many fantasies in our unpolished little intellects. We are attracted by the promises of great science, publications, conferences, ah, the semi-professional student life, while still not being full grown-ups. And it is perhaps our naivety and our desires to be  god-like to resemble our supervisors that let us put up with so much s…tuff.

Graduate school can sometimes strip you away from the most basic form of self dignity. You lose sight of who you are to become a stranger to yourself, and to the people surrounding you. Work becomes your master, and the most abundant feelings of guilt surround you when you are not at the bench/computer/library, you name it. You pull early mornings, late nights, weekends; all accompanied by a steaming cup of your mild source of awakening. You neglect your poor body when you’re sick, ‘forget’ to eat at your hours, sacrifice time with your loved ones, all while you watch life happen right in front of you. All in the name of science.

Some people say that in losing yourself to the things you love you will find yourself. I disagree. Once you don’t know who you are anymore, there is no going back. You become part of the vicious cycle, and eventually turn into the person you hated the most.

This issue hits home hard, as I’ve seen many cases of abuse in people close to me, and I’ve been a victim myself. I don’t know what to do to stop it, but I do know that if I sit here and not say anything about it, things will only get worse. I wish I could prevent this epidemic, which seems to be more and more common.

In absence of solutions or uplifting words to attempt to make it all better, I leave you with one of my response tweets to the thread above. Oh, and regardless of whether you are PI or grad student reading this, please remember this: WE ARE HUMANS.

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Art is therapeutic (my story)

The other day one of my friends was really surprised to see my pictures on Facebook, since he didn’t really know that I was into creative photography. He asked me about what made me get interested in this type of photography. And then I thought about it for a while, and I knew the answer was not that simple. I started giving it a little more thought, how in the world did I decide to start taking pictures? I knew I had been doing it for fun, because it gave me pleasure and it made me happy, but there had to be a better reason to explain how I got into photography.

In the summer of 2010, I graduated from college with a science degree. What was supposed to happen next? A job, graduate school, medical school, get married and have a family? Well, none of these things followed after graduation. Not a single one. I became part of the statistics, an addition to the unemployment list of this country. As someone who has always planned out every single detail and who was always in control of the situation, at that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Not a clue. Wow, that was a bold statement that I never thought I would share publicly.

A little before my college graduation, my grandmother, my best friend, my confidant, my role model, passed away. Her passing will always have a major significance in my life, not only because of what she represented in my life, but also because of when she passed away. She left me right before my college graduation, on the day of my birthday. How was I supposed to take that? Why on earth did she have to die on my birthday? Needless to say, this carried over with my inability to move forward in life. I didn’t know how to get out of the bottomless pit. Now that almost three years have passed, I can look back at it with more clarity, and understand that this is a sign that she never left me, and will be forever with me.

I was given a fancy point-and-shoot camera as a graduation present, and since I had nothing better to do with my time then, I started shooting some pictures and learned how to use editing programs. I eventually found a job, but I kept going back to taking pictures and trying to learn more and improve my skills.

Things did get better. In fact, thanks to all of my not-so-pleasant experiences, I’m a now a firm believer that things always get better. I slowly started redefining my goals in life and somehow I patiently climbed out of my rabbit hole. I applied and got accepted to graduate school, something that I had not completely envisioned before. I was very excited to start, yet I was still the naive, inexperienced girl in many aspects of life. I still had a long way to go, and way too many things to learn.

And then my graduate school journey began. To make the story short, graduate school was not at all what my naive self was expecting, and that took a tremendous toll on my physical and emotional health. Without going too much into details, I saw myself in front of a huge mountain that I thought I could never climb, but instead, a mountain that would fall on me like an avalanche, and get the best of me. I was back again in that endless pit. But this time I really did think it was the end. I felt like I had hit rock bottom in every single aspect of my life, and I could not even see the dimmest ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

The living room in my apartment faces west, so when I get home in the early evening, I can see the beautiful sunshine before the sun goes down. That magnificent light inspired me one afternoon to snap some pictures, after a really long time of not even looking at my camera. And once again, I found myself gradually crawling out of my desperation. This time I needed a little more than just my own pep talks, but thankfully I reached out for help in time

Where am I going with this long blurb about my life? I would like to let you know, yes, you, who is reading this post that there is always light, but you have to look for it. My photography has helped me to heal a lot of aspects in my life that were broken, and I now find myself often looking for the best angle of things. This mindset forces me to always look at the pretty side of things, my eyes are frequently in search of the best lighting, the best angles, and the prettiest sights. This reflects in my personal life, and I try to do the same when the weather is looking kind of cloudy.

Folks, art can heal broken hearts. Art is therapeutic. It forces you to take your deepest emotions and transform them into the most beautiful forms of art. I encourage you to look at your life as a masterpiece in progress. Write a song or a poem when you are sad, sing your heart out when things are not going well, paint a beautiful work of art from what is hurting you deep inside. Take the ugly, painful and unpleasant things,and transform your feelings into art. Be an artist.

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How poor is poor?

As a graduate student, the salary one makes is not outrageously high, but is decent enough to have our heads under a roof, food on our tables and an occasional splurge on clothes/tech devices/alcohol, you name it. This post came to mind the other day, when I was talking with my brother about grad student income and what not (note: my brother is also a grad student in a related area). I usually complain about how poor I am after I pay my bills, but the conversation we had about poverty levels took the idea to another level. You see, in a given department you will find a variety of graduate students; the ones that come from wealthy backgrounds and have never had to experience not having hot water to shower, and the ones who, on the other hand, have been living the struggle ever since they can remember. My younger brother and I come from middle class backgrounds, but we’ve had some pretty rough times in our lives. However, when talking about poor, I don’t think we’ve ever been that poor.

“Poor is when you don’t have any money to buy bread, and you have to sell drinks made out of dirty water to tourists while making a fool of yourself. Now, that is poor.”

Every now and then I forget that things could be worse, and that there are people who are not having a great time. I am one of the lucky ones.