What did I do?
Well before I thought about my values explicitly, I started changing the way I approched grad school to better align with them.
1) I started giving myself nights and weekends off. No sense in working 24/7 on something for which you aren’t getting paid much and don’t really enjoy. Besides, taking breaks makes you more focused and creative when you are working!
2) I worked with my advisor to find research projects that I really wanted to work on. I had to find my voice to say no to things I didn’t want to do and find the courage to dive into new problems.
3) I sought out opportunities outside the PhD to do things that matter to me: teaching workshops, writing blogs and science articles, and consulting with people doing food research on campus. Having side projects has been a lot of fun, expanded my skill set, and created opportunities for me in the future.
4) I’ve been proactive about seeking research funding, so I can really focus my energy on the projects I want, and seeking travel opportunities related to my work (hello, Italy 2018!!)
5) I stopped caring so much. After realizing I didn’t want to pursue a career in academia, I stopped worrying about how my work appeared. No more pressure to publish in top journals, and with that there was a lot less pressure to do the kinds of work I don’t enjoy. Without my perfectionist tendency in the way, now I actually do better work because I’m not afraid to make mistakes along the way.
Working towards a better grad school experience
Over the last ten years, 95% of male students have completed the PhD in my department while only 75% of female students have. There might be a small numbers game at play (in that there are never very many women in my program), but I’d posit that something else is going on.
I think that many students go through a crisis of faith at some point in the PhD. But perhaps the female students are having a harder time getting through this difficult period.
Unfortunately, people don’t tend to talk about these feelings openly while they’re going through it. It’s scary to be vulnerable and share the feeling that maybe you don’t belong. It’s no good if we all suffer side by side, but silently, when we could lean on each other for support! In sharing my story, I hope others will reflect on what really makes them happy and have the courage to speak up and demand it.