I imagine I will have a lot of moments like this throughout the next however-many years I am in grad school. This is the first, and I hope that writing this post will help me get over that last lip of the hole:
I’ve been in a rut for most of this semester. It started right when I returned to Pittsburgh from winter break. It was a surprisingly relaxing break, completely unexpected since I went from living on my own for almost 5 months to spending two weeks in the company of my parents and sisters. I love them very much (!) but it can be a jarring transition to make. Unfortunately, the transition back ended up being much worse. It took me way too long (read: almost 2 months) to get my head back into the mindset and routine of balancing classes, lab, and other work, and to be honest I’m not sure that I am completely there yet. To put it lightly, it’s been a rather rough semester.
#1: Everyone makes a big deal about the first semester of grad school- how the transition is difficult, the level of the classes is much higher than what undergrad classes were like, and trying to balance all of that with doing research makes those first few months so difficult. For me, that wasn’t the case and I actually had a fairly easy first semester. Naively, I thought, Lucky me! I made it through the rough patch unscathed, and now I’ll breeze through the rest of this year!. This second semester came as a complete shock. Instead of having one class to manage, there suddenly were 3, none of which coordinated with each other in terms of workload or due dates. The lab that I am rotating in now is quite a ways further from both campus and from my apartment, whereas the building I rotated in first semester was the same building that my class was in, just one floor down. Overall, it is making for a very hectic and harried semester for me, and my motivation has been low because I’m so frazzled with running around and keeping track of so many things.
#2: Our rotation and class schedules are not perfectly aligned, meaning that both my second and third rotations overlap my spring semester courses. It also means that I need to spend time during the first half of the semester figuring out where I want to do my third rotation; this involves numerous emails, meetings, and follow-ups with professors whose labs are nowhere near where I currently am rotating. Sometimes these take time away from lab; sometimes, they take time away from either relaxing or reading, things that can’t be quantitated in terms of how much time they require, but things that I can certainly sense a personal deficit in. It’s much easier to end up working later in lab than it is to stay up extra hours once I get home to get other work done. To put it lightly, sleep has been lacking recently.
#3: The weather. My gosh, the weather. It has been awful here (as it has been for most of the country this year). Admittedly, we did not get as many large snowstorms in Pittsburgh as many other cities got, but the bitter cold and perpetual snow/rain/ice made for a pretty miserable past few months. While we didn’t get the mega snowstorms, we did have light dustings to a few inches of snow at least every other day from two weeks before Thanksgiving until last week. It’s been very gray and dark…and depressing, which I honestly did not realize until the sun started to come out last week. Combined with the fact that it always gets darker out earlier in the day during the winter, there wasn’t really anything pleasant about this winter.
#4: I’ve been tired; I’ve been frazzled; I’ve been busy- and my apartment has gotten into a perpetual state of clutter teetering on disrepair. Only in this past week have I really been making an effort to clean up and get out of that cycle. The mess makes me feel overwhelmed, so I don’t get very much done at home (work or otherwise), including cleaning up the mess that makes me feel this way. I’ve been slacking on doing the dishes, laundry, and taking out the trash, as well as picking up random little messes and piles that crop up all over the place. I’m not the neatest person to begin with, but there’s a level that I can deal with and a level that I definitely can’t. I reached “level that I definitely can’t” pretty early on this semester, and it is taking a while to get out of. Luckily, I’ve begun to make a start.
All the while, this semester has been racing by. It’s currently spring break (as much as that really exists in grad school), meaning the semester is about halfway over. I’ve already made it through 1 full cycle of exams in all of my classes, and this rotation wraps up in just under 3 weeks. I really can’t believe that so much time has passed, because I feel like I haven’t gotten enough done.
But I suppose that, like with anything, there is a learning curve to graduate school, and it happens differently for everyone. I’ve finally gotten to a place in the past week or so where I can think rationally about what’s been going on, and try to create and implement ways to make this semester function better for me. If I need to take days every once in a while to catch up on work and focus, then so be it. Overall, I need to manage my time better, by focusing on one task and getting it done so that I have a lesser quantity of things hanging over my head. Mostly, I need to be conscious of the things that stress me out as well as those that make me feel better, and balance them so that I keep my life level.