6 MONTH U-PhD-ATE
I get asked how the start of my PhD program is going so much, I figured I'd write a post about it! Sharing all the updates, struggles, and some photos.
In all seriousness, I wanted to hop on here to talk about Hopkins - and my first 6 months of graduate school! Good news: I passed my first set of classes. Human Body, Molecular Biology and Genomics, and Genetics. I'm now amidst another round of challenging classes. They're not necessarily daunting due to the nature of the material, but remember, I've been out of school for 3.5 years. Although I'm happy to be back in lecture halls, taking notes in tandem with a new found routine, I'm still struggling after 6 months to adjust to this whole "learning-after-working" thing.
"It's called a Doctorate of Philosophy in Cellular and Molecular Medicine for a reason, training spans beyond facts into a world of critical thinking, experimental motives, and clinical relevance. "
Lose one thing...
Things change: circumstances, opinions, bodies, and minds. After starting classes, I discovered that my brain just works....differently. During my time as an undergraduate, my livelihood was homework, presentations, exams. Don't get me wrong, graduate school demands a lot of my time as well. But in undergrad, I used to be really good at absorbing information. I mean like a sponge. I could collapse flashcards, formulas, and mindless facts into my brain at a terrifying rate for an exam. I'm writing to say: that's definitely changed.
I'm usually a quick learner, on top of things. I'm used to things clicking. And so far, it's taken me awhile to sort out a study method that works for my new brain. Naivety afforded me the ability to just absorb knowledge; working forced me to lose that 'skill' in favor of tactful knowledge and technical detail. My study methods have followed - I'm now reliant on more details and more context. It's called a Doctorate of Philosophy in Cellular and Molecular Medicine for a reason, training spans beyond facts into a world of critical thinking, experimental motives, and clinical relevance.
"Learning-after-working" isn't all bad, though. It's been an adjustment, but I do feel at somewhat of an advantage. Working before starting my PhD program gave me additional assets: impeccable time management, perspective, and field connections.
I've always been rather good at managing the hours in the day, but 3 years of full-time research taught me how much can be done in an hour and how to make 15 minutes count. With a lot of research being time dependent and performed alongside other scientists (with share resources,) productivity is dependent upon proper usage of time, planning ahead, and hyperawareness of others around you. Of all things, I think I appreciated perfecting this skill set the most.
Working afforded me unique insight and perspective, as well. Every profession and University has its structure, politics, caveats. Luckily, for me, I was able to become familiar with the research environment of Hopkins and academia at large. For this, I feel fortunate.
School & maintaining a brand: can it be done?
On top of it all, I'm running a brand in my free time. School is the priority; but I've worked to build a blog and a brand. I cherish the connections I've made, and I don't intend on losing them. My mind is a constant place of 'all over the place'. Thank goodness for James who tolerates my broken sentences and cooks me dinner (with enough leftovers when I don't have time to pack lunch.)
Some days feel more of a spiral than others but nothing I can't handle. As a result of the chaos, I'm usually on my phone. As if I wasn't on it enough already. Except now I'm fielding emails about review sessions, media events, and catching up on Instagram when I can. When I'm not looking at my phone, I'm on my computer reading papers, protocols, or re-listening to a lecture.
The perfectionist in me is somewhat pained by this hurdle to "do it all" but do it all, I cannot. I'm only human. I've never been able to do it all, but I'd be damned if that's gonna stop me from trying.
My mind, constantly: "I need to go grocery shopping! Did I email her back? Do I have time to start that experiment today? I need to send my media kit to *insert name here*. Do I have everything I need for that photoshoot Sunday?"
Therefore, I made a realistic deal with myself: Keep my education and my brand in a balance that reflects and respects my current priorities. When my class loads are lighter, or there's a break in a need for studying, I try to knock out writing and photoshoots. In the same stroke, if there's an upcoming exam or presentation, I'm usually a few steps removed from writing and posting.
I'm trying to stay positive, but I admit my big hurdle has been the ability to stay social. I try to attend events when I can, but after long days of absorbing information, socialization doesn't feel like a priority (or an enjoyable experience, frankly.) Most days, I want to come home, put on sweatpants, and let my mind breathe.
I'm still working on this transition - and I apologize to friends for being more absent than normal. Just please know that this new chapter in my life has turned much of my world upside down (in a good way). So bear with me....
Reflecting back on my first 6 months of grad school, I've grappled with a range of emotions: fear, excitement, adequacy, inadequacy, depression, surprise, contentment. The list goes on. But all in all, I'm really content with my decision to go back to school. I needed a change of pace, I needed to be challenged. And as we all know, challenge never comes without struggle. Although it's hard entering a new chapter that turns your status quo upside down, the payout is more than a degree. Its resiliency, self-awareness, confidence, and new perspectives.
Whether you're going back to school, becoming a parent, or moving across the country, change is hard. Have you had a similar experience with a new chapter? Going back to school? What about managing two "jobs"? School and a side hustle? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
In the meantime, when I can't write and update the blog due to school, I still try to update my Instagram. Be sure to follow along with my adventures and outfits in Baltimore and beyond!
Until next time, keep hustling.
Photography by Becky of Our Endless Adventure.