Yesterday on Twitter I said, “If you would have told me 1 year ago what my life would be like today I never would have believed you.”
After I said that, some of you asked me to share my experience. Since the story is a bit longer than 140 characters, I decided to write a post (or two or three depending how long it takes) to talk about the life lessons that I have learned over the past two years. I always get a lot of questions about my career change so I thought I would finally do that now that I have some clarity and perspective.
Let me preface this story by telling you a few things about myself:
- I have generally stayed inside the lines throughout my life (i.e., didn’t take risks)
- I have always had a lot of anxiety and I never did many things that took me outside of my comfort zone.
- I have done many things in my life because I thought it would make other people happy.
- I never had any idea what my passions were (see here for more info)
With this in mind, let’s begin the journey of the past 2 years of my life, shall we?
My Undergraduate Dreams…
Throughout my undergraduate program in psychology all I ever wanted was to get into grad school. This was mainly because once I was enrolled in psychology, I quickly realized that there weren’t many job options for someone with a BAH in psychology. So I worked hard at getting into grad school. I figured it was my only hope.
When I was selected out of 300 applicants to be 1 of 4 students to enter a grad school, I was literally on cloud 9. I couldn’t believe it. All the hard work during my undergrad had paid off. All of the studying, applications , major exams, thesis, and the interviews paid off. I applied to 5 schools and was accepted to 1. Of course, I accepted it.
But, I will tell you what my gut feeling was. It was bad. That little voice in my head was trying to tell me that this school was not a perfect fit for me. But I told myself I would be crazy to pass it up. So many students would kill to be in my shoes. So I accepted it and said I would make the best of it.
I thought to myself that I was now going to be ok. I was going to go to grad school and get my Masters and PhD degrees and become a Professor. I would make lots of money and have a respected career. I would do research that I love. Life was going to work out.
Well, life doesn’t always work out as we plan and things aren’t always what they seem…
I entered grad school, Fall 2007:
The four of us who were selected into the program were immediately called the ‘Fab Four’ by our advisors and professors. There was a lot of pressure put on us right from the beginning. They frequently told us that they saw so much promise in us and couldn’t wait until we cultivated our research talents.
Secretly, we all felt like we didn’t measure up. They quickly told us that we would likely have the Imposter Syndrome which was when new grad students think that they got accepted by mistake and everyone else is smarter than them.
During the first week of grad school, we had a Grad School 101 presentation where we were told just exactly how this grad school thing works. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, you can imagine our shock when we were told that we should have 2-3 published articles by the end of our Master’s program, and 8-10 published articles by the end of our PhD career if we wanted to be competitive in the job market. Oh and not just any publishing’s either. We should have publishing’s in top tier journals! We were also told that we needed to put about 60-70 hours a week into our studies, readings, research, and thesis. We would not expect a social life by the way. On top of that we should join committees, volunteer, and schmooze with top notch researchers to get our foot in the door. We were told to live and breathe psychology.
I went home the first week of grad school and cried my eyes out.
I didn’t let anyone see me. I told myself to pull it together and deal with it. I wouldn’t even tell Eric that I had doubts my first week.
I hoped that the stress would pass. I thought that my intense anxiety was a result of the adjustment phase and I would soon become accustomed to the culture I was now embedded in.
But I was sadly mistaken.
The demands piled up. The stress got bigger. Weekly brown bags frequently reminded us of the intense competition in the job market. Oh and don’t expect to apply for a job directly after finishing your PhD either. You need to secure a post-doc to be competitive. And not just any post-doc, a post-doc with a top tier institution! To become a Professor of psychology (in Canada anyways), you are looking at 2 years for your Masters + 4-5 years for your Doctorate + 1 for Post-Doc. The average is around 7-8 years. I knew many people that took much longer though.
Luckily throughout all of this stress, I could vent to a fellow Fab Four member who I had become good friends with named Jane. We frequently vented to each other about the stresses placed upon us and we quickly become disenchanted with our experience. Grad school was nothing like we envisioned it to be. I am forever grateful for meeting Jane because she got me through some really low moments. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
Then there was the MA Thesis.
I did proposal, after proposal, after proposal. Nothing was good enough. My thesis drafts and preliminary studies were scraped one after another and I began to lose hope. Once I finally had a study underway, I was in over my head with statistical analyses so complex I had to seek out PhD students for desperate help. I was lost in analyses for months and months.
There is much more to the story than this, but I can’t really talk about it publicly on the blog.
I left campus, walking back to my car, and cried. On numerous occasions. I cried so many drives home, calling Eric and just bawling my eyes out in frustration. I remember one time it was pouring out on my drive home. I called Eric crying and I had to pull over at a gas station because I couldn’t see the road through my tears and the rain.
As the pressure got more intense, eating resurfaced as a battle in my life. All the progress I had made with beating the disordered eating started to slide away. I had no hope. I started restricting my intake to gain control (or so I thought). I started to count calories and weigh myself each morning as a way to obtain some false sense of control over my life.
I was going backwards, yet the days moved forward.
Even though Eric and I were happily engaged since December 2007, the stress in my life started to negatively affect our relationship. Eric felt helpless because nothing he said or did could help my situation. I felt helpless. I frequently snapped at him for no reason. I didn’t know what to do. I contemplated dropping out of the program, but deep down I knew I could never do it.
Then in April 2008 I did something really stupid…
To be continued…
Part 2: My new career as a researcher + finishing my degree + The hardest thing I have ever done.
Today’s Question: Have you ever had a hard time in school? Or in a certain course? Or with a professor?