I’ve been in graduate school at Missouri State University studying cell biology for a little over a year now. As I reflect on the past year, I realize that I have made new friends, learned a lot, improved my reading and writing skills, and gained a whole new passion for science. I’ve really enjoyed this year, but it has definitely come with its challenges. In honor of one year down, 8 months to go, I’m going to do two posts about the best and the worst of grad school. I’ve decided to talk about the bad first.
Grad school can seriously be the worst.
1. Your advisor owns your life. My advisor has complete control of my life. It’s Labor Day weekend and I’ve already been to the lab twice. (Today (Labor Day), my advisor happened to show up at the lab the same time as me. Part of me has a feeling he only came in to see if I would actually come in and prepare the cell biology lab we teach together tomorrow.) Whatever hoop he provides, I have to jump through without question. My livelihood as a grad student and future as a scientist depends on him. Therefore, what he says, goes.
2. You work at least 40 hours a week for a meager TA stipend. My advisor requires (see #1) I be at school from at least 9 to 5 Monday through Friday day, I rarely take longer than a 15 minute lunch break, and I come into the lab almost every weekend. There is no summer or spring break and Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks are abbreviated versions of what undergrads enjoy. I know, that’s what real-life is. Real life is having a 9 to 5 job and only getting off a few days around holidays. I just wish I got paid a little more for all the work I put in. Sigh. Someday, someday.
3. You have to listen interestedly to whatever the professors want to talk (or rant/complain) about. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten caught in the hallway and ended up in a 20-minute conversation about some bacteria I’ve never heard of. Grad students are perfect victims for chatty professors because they usually see undergrads as incompetent, while other professors have better things to do with their time. Of course I often have better things to do with my time, but I am a lowly grad student, so I stay, nod politely, and agree with whatever they say. I tell myself that this will someday pay off when a professor hooks me up with a sweet job.
4. So much for reading for fun. Journal articles are your life now. As an undergrad, you do a lot of studying, which most often includes reading. This reading is usually from a textbook. The life as a grad student doing biological research is a whole other world. I haven’t opened a textbook once in the past year, but I have spent hours and hours reading journal articles. What are journal articles? Here is an example. They are usually long and confusing, but they are the whole point of doing research. (I plan to do a post about journal articles when I publish my own later this year.) Burying yourself in stacks of journal articles is an essential part to understanding your topic of research and creating a thesis. Fortunately, better reading, critical thinking, and writing skills have been a result of all this reading.
5. Always being asked: So what are you going to do after grad school? Versions of this question began in high school and have haunted me ever since. And it just keeps getting worse. Especially with grad school. Because you’re supposed to have it figured out by the time your 23, right? For those of you who are wondering the answer to this evil question, I’m not sure. My curse in life is that I want to be all the things. Currently, I am cycling through wanting to be a biotechnology lab tech, research lab tech, doctor, optometrist, professor, high school teacher and professional crochet-er. Maybe I’ll get to be all of these things at some point. Probably not, but I can try.
6. No summer break. I know I already kind of talked about this in #2, but seriously its so depressing. What’s the point of still being in college if you don’t get a summer break??? Furthermore, you make so little money that you can’t go on vacation anyway because you are too broke. This is the least tan I have ever been at the end of summer, and I take a lot of pride in how easily I tan (yeah, I’m vain about something people can’t even control about themselves). I wore my swim suit once while at kids camp with Freshwater Kids for about 45 minutes. Plus, it was a one-piece, so my stomach has never seen the sun this summer. I knowwwwww, real life, blah blah blah. I miss having a summer break, okay. Doesn’t everyone?
Wow that was a lot of complaining. I normally don’t like to complain. Let’s just say that I’m telling it how it is. That sounds better than a whole post devoted to complaining.
Don’t worry, grad school has actually been really great. There are many more great things about grad school than sucky things. Stick around for why grad school is the best.
A good portion of the pictures on my phone are science-related. Here are a few: