Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
I have just completed my first year in a PhD program. I started blogging a little over a year ago when I transitioned from one phase of my life into another. It started as a way for people from the life I was leaving behind to keep up with what I was doing. It has turned into an arena to reflect on the various aspects of grad school life. That is why I was particularly interested in writing for the zomg grad skool carnival!!!1. So, this is my attempt to impart the vast wisdom that I have gained this year (ha!) to the group of folks about to start:
This year has been a big one for me in many ways. I felt dumb much of the time, but am beginning to believe that many of us do… and its kind of the point. When you are studying something that hasn’t been figured out there are no easy answers. Additionally, when you are surrounded by people who have been working on their projects for longer than you it is very easy to fall into the how-will-I-ever-know-as-much-as-they-do mindset. I took something that James Watson (I know, not the best role model, for many reasons) wrote in his autobiography (much of which was incredibly pompous). I don’t remember the exact quote but it went something like, if you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, you will learn much more than if you are the smartest person in the room. This helped me be ok with not being the top of the class. I learned a huge amount from the people that know more than me, which makes me lucky.
Having people to commiserate with is immensely useful in realizing that you are not alone in these feelings of inadequacy. That being said, I have realized that grad students (myself included) like to bitch, a lot. It is easy to dwell on frustrations, and while venting is important, it is also important to keep things in perspective. I often found myself thinking about how incredibly lucky I was that someone decided it was worth it to pay me to be in school. I earn money for learning stuff, and all the downsides (for me at least) pale in comparison to that.
I will give one piece of advice that might not work for everyone, but has helped me this year. Have a Plan B. Mine is knowing that I would be happy with a career as a middle or high school science teacher, or as an outdoor educator. Whenever things got particularly challenging this year, or I really felt like I was in over my head, I just told myself that no one is forcing me to be here, and if I decide I really hate it, I can always get a job as a science teacher that would be rewarding and probably fulfilling. Obviously Plan B would feel like a let down, and I would undoubtedly be very disappointed in myself if I left my program. I have no plans to do so (that’s why its not Plan A). However, simply having a Plan B takes the pressure off, and allowed me to keep the stress level relatively low this year.
In summary, to survive and even enjoy your first year of grad school you should…
Have a thick skin. Allow yourself to believe you are in the right place. Vent and commiserate, but not too much! Have a plan B.
I haven’t written about the oil disaster. It’s not really a spill. A spill is what happens when something gets a hole in it, or gets knocked over. This was a blowout and the oil is still pumping out… so spill is not the right term. Anyhow, I haven’t written about it despite it being on my mind because the details of who all is really to blame, what is being hidden from us, how bad things really are are tough to keep on top of and many people in the “blogosphere” are doing a good job. Carl Safina’s blog and Deep Sea News have been doing particularly good jobs of this. These are links to recent posts on each of these sites, but they both have many informative and thoughtful ones of late.
I am writing this because I have a semi-personal connection that I want to share. I did a semester in college with the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program. A key component of this semester’s program are 3 field seminars: one offshore voyage, one west-coast road trip, and a third that has changed since I was in the program. When I was there we spent a weekend on Nantucket to get a taste of island life. In the last few years they have been taking the students to the Gulf Coast. These trips are typically an amazing combination of experiential education (think lecture on salmon farming at a salmon farm), interdisciplinary education (you travel with your science, history, literature, and policy professors), cultural experience, and fun.
Over the last few years through the trips to the Gulf, folks in this program have developed strong personal connections to the community on Grand Isle, which is one of the places that has been hardest hit my this disaster. This community depends on the fishing, oil, and tourism industries for its livelihood, and all three are effectively gone. It has reached the point where the grocery store on the island may not be able to stay open. Because of the personal connections people in this program have built they have had many first hand communications with people on Grand Isle. I recently heard the director of the program (Jim Carlton) speak at a mini-reunion and he described the strange feeling of seeing the people he knows on the evening news over and over again.
People from the Williams-Mystic Program have decided to try to do something to help the folks of Grand Isle directly (very little of the BP money for helping people out of work has actually reached this community). A fund has been set up to allow the grocery store to remain open (therefore allowing people to remain on the island where they live) and establish lines of credit at the store for residents. Two people from the program have been sent down to Grand Isle to help set this up and try to document what is actually happening. They have set up a blog here that provides a nice perspective - that of non-media real people spending extended amounts of time on Grand Isle. If you have been wishing there was something you that would actually help the people affected by this disaster, please consider donating to New Englanders For the Gulf even if you are not from New England. Spread the world.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
In about two weeks I head out to the west coast to spend 3 weeks aboard the R/V Atlantis doing research on the hydrothermal vents. Hopefully we will have Alvin with us... but that is not certain (looooooong story).