Grad School: Finding the positive through the negative.

I recently read this article which has been popping up on the facebook newsfeeds of my fellow graduate students. The reactions have varied from:

“Yes! To all of this!” – Melissa Giresi (@DarwinsAquarium) to

“Am I the only one who has had a largely positive graduate school experience?” – David Shiffman (@whysharksmatter).

Intrigued, as I generally get a kick out of these related grad school commentaries, I read it and have to say, on a whole, I largely disagree. While I understand where it’s coming from, can relate to it and laugh at it, it was David Shiffman’s comment that really struck me,

“Am I the only one who has had a largely positive graduate school experience?”

Often times, it seems, that these articles only emphasize the negative, while negatives are part of the graduate school experience (and life in general) – they’re not all of it and sometimes it’s the negatives that help you find the positive. I know that’s true in my case.

My first 2 years of graduate school have not been without challenges. I made the tough decision to change labs 2 years in. Despite that situation, it has, overall, been a positive experience. There have been trying negatives throughout the process -I have been told bluntly that I was failing and may not be cut out for this. I have been more stressed than ever before, and have had the usual “imposter syndrome” – but those struggles have really allowed me to grow as a person, student and a researcher. I’m not going to lie, those struggles sucked. They tested my confidence and brought down my generally optimistic demeanor. However, as a result (and thanks to many supportive family, friends and faculty members) I have learned both what I want to be and have, though the rough waters, found my passion, regained my confidence and optimism and my dissertation is now heading in a direction that is best for me, and I’m stoked.

I am in the best shape of my life (post high school), which I’ve rediscovered does wonders for my mental health too. I am in a healthy relationship, am more financially stable than when I was working full time (the perks of moving from San Diego, CA to College Station, TX – I realize not every grad student is that lucky) and have made many, amazing friends that I socialize with nearly every day and whom I am so thankful for. While seeing other friends, with fewer degrees than I, settled down with homes and families I sometimes envy their apparent security – but we’ve all found our place and I am happy and confident I made the right decision with mine. I’m not sure what I’ll do after I graduate, I have my ideas but they may change and I’m okay with that uncertainty.

As my Dad always says, “The process of doing will get it done” and “There are no straight lines to where you want to go, acknowledge the obstacles and know there will be more. You’ll get through them and be better for it.”

As always, Dad, you’re right.

So, while my graduate experience is not all positive, it’s not all negative either – more of a happy medium, with an emphasis on happy. I hope yours is too, if not – make a change, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.