I’m officially three weeks into my Ph.D. program, and so far I’ve been presented with many types of new challenges. Finding my way around a new campus has been tricky (especially one as big as Texas A&M!). Figuring out what studying looks like in an academic environment that values your grades less than what you actually learn has been refreshing, but hard. And don’t even get me started on trying to understand the train and the schedule it supposedly runs on!
The biggest challenge, however, has been one that isn’t based on my environment. It hasn’t been about my classes, or about the research I’m starting. It hasn’t been about my professors, classmates, or the students already in my program. I’ve figured out that the biggest challenge I’ve encountered so far is… myself.
I realized about a week in: I don’t think I know what I’m doing here.
I thought I knew before I got here. I wanted to be an academic, I wanted to be a professor and conduct research and make school my job forever and ever, because it sounded good. But I got here and was no longer convinced this was the path for me. As I heard professors talk about the journeys they went on to get to where they were, it didn’t sound like a life I wanted for myself. I thought about going into industry, but all the jobs sounded either boring or intimidating.
I felt out of my league more than I ever have before. I had no idea why I was here. To be frank, I still don’t know why I’m here, and I’ve had almost a month to think about it.
What I realized is: it’s okay not to know, and it’s okay to find smaller purposes for graduate school while you figure out what your big purpose is.
While I may not have the ten-year-plan I thought I did when I graduated in May, I have a general plan for the rest of my week, which is pretty good. I know what I’m doing today, mostly, too. I have purpose in that going to class makes me feel like I understand difficult concepts better. I have a purpose in going into my lab to get to know all the people there, and find out if I could see myself there for the next four years. I have purpose in making time for myself so that I don’t go totally crazy studying and thinking about research projects.
And as my grandma always said, “Education is never wasted”. Sure, I don’t have a big over-arching goal for my Ph.D. after I earn it. Not yet, at least! But I know I want to learn. I know that I could do great things in my field; I’m just still learning what those things might be. And isn’t that why we come to graduate school in the first place? To figure out what we want to be?
Coming to graduate school with the purpose to learn about yourself and what you want to do is a very valid reason to be here. So even if other people in your program have their ten-year-plan set for industry, academia, or anything else, remember that your purpose is valid, even if it’s just to get to the gym today or remember to throw your sheets in the laundry.
Cultivating purpose in graduate school is about little goals that you set for yourself. So stick to your little goals, try not to think to hard (I know- easier said than done!), and remember that you are absolutely supposed to be here.
Serina is a Ph. D. student in the Genetics program.