I have to be honest; June has absolutely spoiled us. I’ve never experienced a June this cool in the state of Texas, and as much as I’ve appreciated it, I’m trying to remind myself not to get used to it!
And, since we’re about to enter one of the hottest months of the year here in BCS, I thought now would be a good time for a hot take on graduate school.
I’ve been in my program for about a year now. Most of what I’ve heard before and during my time so far in graduate school are warnings and sad stories from older graduate students or post-docs about how miserable graduate school is/was.
And frankly, I’m a little tired of it. So here’s my hot-take: you can be in graduate school AND be happy.
Wow. I know, it sounds nuts, especially coming from someone who’s actually pretty frustrated with her work currently. But the fact that my work is giving me a hard time, but I still felt the need to drop this hot take on everyone speaks to the fact that I believe it at my core. You can be happy in graduate school.
Not only that, it’s actually better for you to be happy! I know it’s easy to fall into group-complaining sessions, and those are very important for venting and understanding your feelings (I don’t dispute that graduate school is hard, so these types of sessions are very necessary), but that shouldn’t be your constant overall mentality. Additionally, if you’re like me and enjoy seeing your work and your job in a positive light, don’t let anyone bring you down for being happy. Just because someone else is suffering through graduate school doesn’t mean that you must do the same.
Finding happiness in your work also doesn’t have to come at a cost of your work itself. Being happy doesn’t mean you’re not working hard enough; it just means that you’re giving yourself the mental space to be happy as well as concentrate on your task. It makes you feel lighter, and more capable, and I know I always get a lot more done when I’m happy than when I’m anything else. So really, focusing on your happiness and mental state while you work is a great way to increase your productivity.
If you don’t think your work can make you happy as things stand right now, think about what it is you’re doing. And I don’t mean the mundane thinking you do day-to-day about what you need to get done or what your last results were and what needs to happen moving forward, I mean think about why you are doing what you are doing. Think about the change you want to see in the world, the discovery that you’re hoping to make, the new knowledge you want to develop and share with your field. Think about the reason you applied to graduate school, and how you felt when you got in! All these things are sure to brighten your day, at least a little.
And if these tactics don’t work for you, think about what your current day-to-day looks like and expand on what it is that isn’t making you happy. Once you figure it out, the incredible thing about knowing what is wrong is that there is usually someone you can talk to about it. Whether it’s your friends, your family, a counselor, your PI, your coworkers, or anyone else you know, go talk to them! Let them know what you’ve figured out, and the more you talk it out, the clearer your steps to happiness will become.
Lastly, remember these two things for me: change is our only constant, and this too shall pass. This mantra has gotten me through several tough spots this year (and let’s call it what it is, no matter who you are, we’ve all had some tough spots so far in 2020!). If you think this, repeat this to yourself, and really believe it, things will start to bother you less and less.
Change is the only constant. This too shall pass. You have a right to, and deserve, happiness. Yes, even in graduate school. You can be happy, and I believe in you and your happiness.
(And I’ll leave you with a final tip for this hot take: ice cream is instant happiness and an instant way to cool down for this hot month. I’m just putting that out there. Be happy, go eat some ice cream. That’s another good mantra.)
Serina is a Ph. D. student in the Genetics program.