Warning: This piece is going to make absolutely no sense, a lot of it is going to sound contradictory but its just a stream of thought. so… yeah.
I am now reaching the end of my second year of this whole PhD thing. And I have to say I have learned a lot more about life than I have about science. Thinking about the last two years, two things have stuck with me. One, your life is not about what you meant to do, what you could do, what you were thinking about doing, its about what you actually do or don’t do. You can either seize the moment or watch it pass you by. But it gets better. Each course of action good or bad creates a ripple effect. A rippled effect one cannot control. So, the second thing that has stuck with me, is, it does not matter what you intended to do, or even what you did, but how those you are dealing with interpret your actions. This means that once you create that ripple effect, there is no telling what will happen. This brings into emphasis what my grant teacher keeps going on and on about. She says to us, no one cares about what you think or even what you know, if your audience cannot understand your work, why they should care. With this in mind, we place the burden of being understood correctly on ourselves. If my audience cannot understand what I am saying, then it is my own shortcoming, I must come up with a new way to explain to them what I am doing in a way that will draw them in.
It was to my surprise when I saw that this holds true everywhere else. Good intension, good actions can produce nasty results, and ugly thoughts and horrible intensions can produce wonderful results and the underlying factor the determined the outcome is how the person across from you interprets your course of actions.
In summation, nothing means anything. It’s almost as if anything any one does have to be distinctly geared towards a tastes or perspective or it will have no intrinsic value on its own. It will have no value because no one cares.
All this sounds very pessimistic, and as I write it, I can hear It loud and clear. But I would like to point out that this was a very important lesson for me. This lesson also highlights the fact that no one exists on their own. We all exist in a network of relationships, personal and impersonal all of which at times can get very messy, are essential for mental, emotional and physical stability.
You are now probably wondering how all this relates to getting a Ph.D. Directly, none of this has anything to do with a PhD, indirectly, it has everything to do with a PhD. The first year of graduate school is extremely exciting. It is exciting because it’s probably the first time you are out on your own in the world experiencing the independence you’ve sort after since high school. You are feasting on the fruits of your labor; you’re doing what you have always pictured yourself doing. And this is exactly how its supposed to be. Surely but slowly this excitement begins to give in under the weight of your work load. In addition to your classwork and homework you must commit a considerable amount of time in lab doing experiments. The frustration of countless failure, lack of sleep, mental and physical fatigue, combined with the accompanying isolation from rest of the world, friends, family, and society, makes you begin to question what it is you are doing, why are you doing it, and why does it all matter.
If you try to describe it to someone else who is not in the field, they would tell you that you should probably reevaluate your life and think about whether you are doing what is best for you. Talk to a fellow graduate student or faculty, you would get a completely different response. They would either cry with you, laugh at you or make fun of you, mostly because they see themselves or their former selves in you, grab a meal with you and call it a day. Its such a simple thing, but it works wonders.
But what all that has shown me, is that nothing stops just because you are having a bad day or feeling sad or depressed or questioning your life choices. The most you are probably going to get is a few moments to vent to someone, unless you are paying for a therapist, then you get lots of moments. But at the end of the day, you still must deal with yourself. No matter what is happening, the clock still turns, the sun still moves across the sky, your family’s life still progresses forward, your friend’s life is progressing forward. And while people will tell you they are thinking about you, keep in mind that is all they are doing. Thinking about you.
Moments of weakness mental or emotional creates room for self-doubt, regret, self-pity, that can manifest themselves in extremely destructive ways for the self and any close personal relationship. Make peace with your past and move forward. Make peace with your unlived life and find contentment in what you have. Stand firm to your values and find pleasure in the little things.