Today’s blog post comes straight from the request line. At the behest of my adoring public we are going to delve into the subject of–wait for it–crying in science. A strange topic perhaps but let my motives be clear. There is something very cathartic about knowing that you are not the only graduate student who has simply lost it on some poor unsuspecting peer (or in my case several faculty members). And if nothing else you can laugh mercilessly at me as I sacrifice my pride for the greater good. For those of you without a flare for the dramatic 1) I have nothing in common with you and 2) keep reading anyway.
Now in an effort for full disclosure it is not difficult to make me cry. It’s my default reaction. Sad-cry, happy-cry, frustrated-cry, can’t stand one more failed luciferase assay-cry. That being said I have been working fairly tirelessly to try and curb the reaction in the professional setting. However, as my fellow graduate students know, the stress of this job can crack even the most hardened individuals and it often sneaks up on you. One of my favorite stories involves me losing my mind in my boss’s office one afternoon. My mom had called me to tell me (in the middle of the day no doubt) that a family pet had passed away and I was, I feel, appropriately sad. The weird thing is that instead of going to the bathroom to cry and compose myself before finishing the experiment I was doing like a normal person I instead went to my boss’s office and mumbled incoherently about science and pets while sobbing like a child…awesome. Now lucky for me my boss is just about the nicest person you could ever meet, but I think that was his baptism into the church of Katy crazy. I’ve assuaged my embarrassment by telling myself that I was just preparing him for having a teenage daughter…he’ll thank me later.
There have, of course, been other occasions where I’ve cried in front of my boss, the director of my graduate program (sorry Allison!), the afore lauded Jeanne Sutter, countless friends, several thesis committee members, and a couple qualifying exam committee members if I’m not mistaken. In an effort to be brief (HA!) however we can save those stories for some wine-soaked happy hour down the road.
The thing is that graduate school is crazy difficult and probably not in the way you initially expected. Sure classes and exams are hard, the quals are maddening, and bench work is draining and often disappointing, but I’ve come to realize a totally different kind of stress in graduate school that I was completely unprepared for. We’ve been conditioned to handle acute stressful situations throughout high school and college—a tough exam, a huge paper, the GRE/MCAT—but in grad school the stress doesn’t peak and decline nearly as much. It’s more of a low level of constant stress that tends to eat your brain in a whole different way. Eventually there are no grades to reassure you that you’re on track and expecting atta boys from faculty is beyond mad. The message I really want to impart to you (particularly the newbie’s) is that everyone—I mean it, EVERYONE—thinks about quitting, grows to hate science for at least a little bit, and loses their mind in one way or another. It’s normal, sadistic but normal. Hang in there and lean on other students for advice, they are your lifeline to reality. Oh and lastly, leave your boss alone and come find me if you need to cry. I’ve got dues to pay.