The Uncertainty of Grad School

If anyone knows a great amount about uncertainty, it’s grad students, more so PhD students. There is one question that you should never ask a doctorate student and that is “when do you think you’ll graduate?” I understand that this is a harmless question, but we really don’t know. Our lives are filled with uncertainty about our research, careers, heck, even about if we can eat later. If you are a grad student that is dealing with a feeling of uncertainty, just know that you are not alone.

I wish I could say that a PhD is a straight forward path, filled with a fun research project and a set schedule. It is not. For the most part, the whole project is up to the student to do, and there will always be setbacks. Funding is a major setback for grad students. You need money to be able to work on the project as well as money just so you can eat. In some cases, you may get neither. In other cases, you may get barely enough money to pay for your rent. You just don’t really know.

Feeling uncertain about your future is completely normal. Having anxiety because of it is a normal response but needs to be managed. Grad school will throw so many curve balls that by the end of it. You will be so desensitized to uncertainty that it doesn’t even bother you. I feel like that is a main goal of graduate studies.

Being able to focus on a project and see it through to the end, regardless of what happens, is something that not many people can do. Most projects will have a set goal, timeline, and tasks that need to be complete. Your project might be a brand new scientific addition to the world where you may get weird results, you may go poor in the process, and you may not have a set path for you. Understand that this can be fun, stressful, but fun.

It’s all about the journey, my friends. See, goals are great, but the journey is the most important part. The end goal in a grad program is graduation. That might be years in the future. So, would you rather get the most out of the ride or be miserable the whole time? I wrote in a blog post about finding the good in things. (link here). Things will go wrong, and a lot in grad school. It is all part of the journey, though. You learn to adapt to changes and uncertain events that may occur.

African man with frown look sitting under red light

Here are a few things that you can do to reduce the anxiety that comes from uncertainty in grad school.

  1. Accept that we cannot control everything. If it out of our control then why worry about it?
  2. Envision the best scenario that can happen. Also, envision the worst thing that can happen. Now understand that what is likely to happen is something between those two things.
  3. Keep moving regardless of what happens. You may get pushed back another semester or your experiment failed. These are all things that are out of our control. You must keep moving forward and learn from those experiences.
  4. Seek support from those you trust. Most people have a support system. Go to them and don’t just take all advice from some stranger on the internet (lol).
  5. Look for the honey. Every event that occurs can have some form of good that comes from it. Look for what good came from each event that occurred. Focus on just that and it will make the situation much more enjoyable.
  6. Accept that uncertainty is part of life, and quite an exciting thing too.

Sometimes the best thing to do is just accept that things will not go as planned. There will always be things out of your control that will run the show. If you are truly suffering from dealing with uncertainty, check out this article about the books that can help you with that (link here). I think I might get a few of those books myself.

Before I finish up, I just want to say, it is ok to get anxious every once in a while. These feelings are normal and nothing is wrong with you. However, focusing on these feelings and getting more anxious is not alright. Grad school is a terrifying time in a young scholars life. You may think that you are traveling this path alone, but you aren’t. We are all on this journey. Focus on the good things that come from grad school. Focus on the skills you are obtaining along this journey. And most importantly, be kind to yourself. I wish more people didn’t beat themselves up all of the time, especially for things out of their control.

I hope your week is eventful and full of fun activities. You guys really are the best. Thanks for reading.

Zoom to Classroom: The Great Transition

Every single news outlet has something saying how a different variant of Covid is spreading all over the world. You have some news channels saying that it’s “just like the flu” while others say that you are guaranteed to get really sick and die. Seriously? How am I supposed to function with everyone telling me that I am going to get really sick and cause others to get sick? Unfortunately, this is where we are at currently. On top of knowing that different variants are present, we are being forced to go back to school and have in person classes. Talk about stressful times.

Most universities in the US are going back to in person classes which really has many people concerned. I have been back on campus for a year now but I am still extremely concerned when 50,000 students come back to occupy the halls once again. That is quite a good chunk of people coming from all over Florida as well as the rest of the US. On top of that, Florida is the hotspot for Covid cases. Great! Just writing this blog is making me mad as well as a tad bit more concerned.

If you are feel the same way, well, you are definitely not alone. Most of the grad students that I talk to on a daily basis are just as concerned as I am. We are more concerned to get the virus from an individual that just doesn’t care and goes to bars, concerts, and anywhere else where a ton of people are. I get it, those things are extremely fun and I miss going to them, but I also want to be able to see my parents and family without exposing them to something that could potentially kill them.

Like me, you are probably scouring the internet, looking for some way to prepare for the transition back to in person classes. I hope you are finding some really good information that you can share in the comments. These are a few of the best ways to prepare that I have found. I hope that they help you and bring some peace of mind.

  1. Get Vaccinated

The vaccines on the market have all been thoroughly tested and are safe. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated, go and get one. They are free. This is the best way to prevent going to the hospital. One thing that I don’t understand is why people would rather go to the hospital than get a vaccine. Have you ever been to the hospital in the US? It’s expensive! So, if you want to spend the rest of your life paying off bills, then go right ahead. However, if you are like me, you’ll see that getting a free vaccine is way better than paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off a visit that was preventable. Also, the vaccine’s side effect is that it prevents you from going to the hospital. That’s it. There are some cases where there might be a case of some other serious side effect, but those are so rare. Hopefully you have taken statistics and can see that the chances of getting a serious illness from a vaccine is slim to none. Trust the science.

2. Talk to someone about your fears

Woman Wearing Teal Dress Sitting on Chair Talking to Man

Talking with others about your concerns is a great way to easy your worried mind. This is a common fear among grad students and you may find peace in knowing you are not alone. Virtually every grad student that I have talked to has looked for many ways to prepare for this transition. They have talked to their advisers and brought up their concerns. By talking to other people, you may find that there are options that you can take to reduce exposure to Covid. Also, with enough people, you can bring up your concern to the school and they may change in person classes to online for grad students. You never know until you try.

3. Move to the front of the classroom

Brown and Black Wooden Chairs Inside Room

This is one that many people don’t really think of. Where is the least populated area in a classroom? The front row. No one wants to sit right in front of the professor because they think they will get called on constantly, and that’s super anxiety inducing. By sitting in the front row, you will be away from everyone else and have less of a chance of getting Covid. This is what I will be doing. Also, it forces you to pay attention, so you will definitely do better in these classes. There was actually a study done on seat location and performance. Read it here.

4. Learn to meditate to ease your mind

Woman Meditating in the Outdoors

I practically right every article with meditation in mind. This is by far the best reducer of stress and anxiety that I have found. Covid brings a ton of uncertainty which brings anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, so you need a way to cope. Meditation will allow you to relax and almost troubleshoot your mind. Think of anxiety as a virus in your computer. You need a way to eliminate that virus without paying $100 for virus removal software lol. Mediation is what allows you to go into safe mode, find the virus (anxiety) and eliminate it. I hope this makes sense. I am an environmental engineer, not a computer science major lol. If you haven’t read my blogs about mediation, you can find them here. Please check them out.

5. Wear your mask

White Ceramic Sculpture With Black Face Mask

Other than getting the vaccine, wear your mask!!! These two simple things will prevent you from getting Covid, or seriously reduce the chance of getting it. Listen to the medical experts and stop listening to some person on YouTube that “Did their Research.” No, they did not. There research was reading blog posts from anti-vaxxers that have no clue how to do research. You are an intellegent person and know what good science is. They don’t. If you happen to meet one of these people, ask them if you can see their lab where they test their hypotheses. They probably won’t even know what the word “hypothesis” is. Don’t listen to them. Wear your mask.

6. Exercise outside

Woman Running On Pathway

Gyms will be packed in the fall. New freshman love to congregate in large groups around the machines which will mean that a ton of people may be exposed to Covid. If you are concerned, exercise outside. I have great exercises that you can do that are just as good as going to the gym. Check them out here. Also, if you have an office, spend some time each day and maybe do some yoga. Get your office mates to join you as well. If you don’t have an office, exercise outside is a great alternative. This will keep you far away from crowds as well as increase your mental health. Your mental health is as important, if not more important, than your physical health. Studies have shown that spending time outside increases mental health. Strengthening physical and mental health are essential to getting through this pandemic.

7. Be Smart

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If you feel unsafe in any setting, get out of there. Some things may make you feel extremely uncomfortable such as lab meetings, grad school events, etc. If you feel very uncomfortable, please don’t feel like you have to go. For lab meetings, reach out to your adviser. They will understand and probably will make the meeting online anyway. I don’t know a single professor that isn’t concerned about Covid. If you are going back to the lab, be smart by cleaning everything. Wear a mask if you are with someone else. We have been doing this for over a year now so we are all aware of the procedures.

This will be quite the experience for all of us, especially those in states where Covid cases are through the roof **cough, cough, Florida**. We need to work together and do our part to reduce any chance of getting this persistent virus. If you are concerned with going back, you are not alone. ‘ve been back for a year now and I am deeply concerned. But, I do everything that I possibly can to reduce the chance I get sick. I wear a mask, I clean, and most importantly, I practice mindfulness to mentally prepare. Get vaccinated first. Trust me, there’s plenty of evidence that shows the vaccines are safe. Don’t listen to anecdotal evidence because that’s not science based. Trust the experts. Practice mindfulness and mediation to strengthen your mental health and I guarantee things will be fine.

If you happen to get sick, stay away from people. Let your adviser know so they can take the appropriate measures that your college has laid out. Get plenty of rest, and if you feel good enough as well as lost your sense of taste, try a new food that you find disgusting lol. If I lose my taste, I might try mayonnaise…well maybe not. If you have made it this far on my blog, please share with us how you are preparing for this upcoming semester. I would love to know and I know a thousand grad students would also love to know as well. Stay safe friends! And remember, This too shall pass.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.