I’ve decided that I’ve gone through five stages during my first rotation (kind of like the five stages of grief, except this is the five stages of your lab rotation, and I believe there is a cycle somewhere in there). This post talks about my first three stages.
Sane curiosity -> Overblown realization -> slight disillusionment -> fearful trials -> All is well fort
I’ve been trying to curtail the experiences of my first rotation with fresh eyes (that is void of whatever external circumstances that may be going on). I want to examine it almost ideally: assuming the world is perfect, how is my first rotation going?
For starters, I’m six weeks in, with two more weeks to go (almost a home run, and no I don’t watch baseball). I’m in a government lab, so it is not your traditional University atmosphere – the post-doctoral students and Investigators on this campus therefore out number the graduate students (this has its perks!).
At first, I was running wild with questions in my head – Why this? Why that? What is this? What is the name of this protein again? Why would anyone call it that? Whoa there is a 7-minute blot transfer machine? (How had I not known this?). Some of your classic run-off-the mill questions for the first couple of days. Clueless is the best word I would describe me six weeks ago. And I feared getting anywhere on campus because I got lost every single time I had to venture some where new. Places that I later discovered would take me 10 minutes took me about half an hour in those good old days (see how far I’ve come!). Then I had to dive into the obligatory scientific papers-up-your-nose-business when you first start in a lab and then those questions kind of died down.
As the weeks passed by… and the smoke started to clear… some things started hitting home. What on earth am I doing? Do you know where you are? Like are you kidding me? You are wayyyyy too young for this. You should have taken a year off! (I just graduated from undergrad in May this year). I was in that frenzy midpoint in-between knowing that you are in the right place at the right time and being scared of relapsing into failure. The good side of it felt like being on a high where I can’t be dragged down from. However, it gave me that sober realization that I just wasn’t in Kansas anymore (and Kansas refers to undergrad). It’s the big guns now – quality, quality and more quality (garnered from an advice the Professor with whom I will be doing my second rotation with once told me when I asked her the best advice to give someone who aspires to be a Principal Investigator someday).
So I was slowly getting settled in – I could find my way around campus a bit faster, I kind of started understanding what people talked about during lab meetings, and some of the lab members were saying hi to me at metro stops – progress!
Or not. I started entering this eerie stage of disillusionment. I got depressed. I realized that the long haul towards this degree were long stretch of hours, lots of failure, isolation at times and loads of tiredness. I was getting tired. It will just be research, research, research from dawn to dusk… I almost felt like I was in this world of slaves where this is what will rule me and there would be no time for me to play or read or just be a couch potato. Then I thought of the alternatives (you’d think I would have thought of all this before applying to graduate schools – trust me, I did). The sad thing on thinking of alternatives is that there is nothing else I would rather be doing in the world (except if I were a well-paid couch potato!). Slowly however, this cloud lifted off as well. It must have been the whole process of getting indoctrinated into lab life I guess. Somehow, I reconciled myself to the fact that there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Meeting fellow graduate students helped – a lot! Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not in a traditional graduate program, so there aren’t a lot of students around me. I’m in the midst of much older and wiser people now. You can imagine the dearth of my mates that i was feeling, add that a top of my disillusionment and the novelty of my new spot in life. I finally broke out of my introverted shell and made it to social-networking hour (a.k.a known as happy/beer hour at other institutions). Apart from getting really cheap food and drinks off the menu, I was rewarded with conversations that made me laugh so hard I had a tear or two come off the side of my eye. That was when I realized I made the right decision coming here for graduate study. I realized I wasn’t alone, and this hour right here was the cure to my future hours of disillusionment. If I ever forget and think I’m in this alone, there are others in this with me, and we are share a common path. The other advantage of this of course is that these are my fellow future collaborators, bosses, employees and my colleagues… oh and not to forget amongst them are potential Nobel laureate winners of course! I should have started going to this sooner than later.