I’ll just be honest, my first year of grad school was absolutely miserable. Classes were unbearable difficult. In fact, I got a 9% (yes, single digit 9) on my first organic synthesis exam. I was used to college exam class averages in the 70’s or maybe 60’s, but exam averages in grad school ranged from 30-50%.
I made a handful of great outdoorsy friends who made the weekends less lonely, but come Monday, I wasn’t the same outgoing/confident person I used to be in college. I stopped running because of all the stress (when it should have been the other way around – run to relieve stress) and gained 15 lbs. I’m so thankful for the friends I made in those first months, because I’m tellin’ ya, if I didn’t have them, I woulda been a goner.
I remember calling home multiple times a week, crying, mostly because I felt like a fraud; a failure; like I wasn’t smart enough to be here. My non-grad school friends questioned why I was putting myself through this. My grad student friends seemed to be doing just fine. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone how much I was struggling.
Fortunately, by second semester things started turning around. I liked my classes more, I started training for a marathon (thanks to my good friend and soon-to-be roomie), and I started working really hard in my research lab to produce results. My advisor and labmates respected my work ethic and I finally felt like I was contributing.
Second year was academically even harder than the first year. We had to pass these cumulative exams and the big oral qualifying exam. The cumul. exams beat me down and stole my confidence, but didn’t take my determination to push through. By my second year, I knew I wanted to get through, so at least if I didn’t make it through my exams, at least I’d go out fighting.
In grad school, preservation trumps all. If you really want to be in grad school, if you really want to get through, you will.
So to all the folks out there considering graduate school (for chemistry, science, or any degree for that matter): times will suck. And it’ll be hard. And it’ll make you feel like you’re not smart enough. But guess what? Everyone feels that way. And you ARE smart enough. And you CAN get through it.
No one wants to admit weakness, but I bet you a million dollars, every single grad student feels the same way I felt during my first two years here.
I’m about to start my 5th year (woah, time flies) and couldn’t be happier that I stuck with it and pushed through the suck of the first 2 years. I love my lab mates, advisor, the research I do, and the easy-going lifestyle. The freedom of showing up when you want/leaving when you want… nothin’ beats it.
I love being on the forefront of new research and technology. I love collaborating with people fifty times smarter than I am. I love working with undergrad research assistants, and teaching them lab skills. I love stumbling through hard research projects and asking my labmates for help. I love that moment during group meeting, when I feel like maybe – even if just a little bit – I impressed my advisor.
Grad school seriously rocks. Plus, when it’s all done, I’ll have 3 shiny new letters following my name… Ph.D. :)