Back in high school, a little over five years ago, I remember sitting in my first research lab, performing ATR-FTIR measurements on dyed fabrics for two hours at a time after school, loving every minute of it. It was then, a little over five years ago, that I decided I would go to Graduate School to do a PhD…
Fast forward two years, it’s Sophomore (2nd) year at University of South Carolina. The workload feels like it could crush me from all the piles of textbooks and hand written homework assignments, and all I wanted to do was be in the lab problem solving, collecting data, and expanding the edge of science. All I wanted to do was be done with college and on to grad school…
Two more years pass. The workload is quite literally killing me. The 110 hour work week was maintained by 2-4 hours of sleep during the week, many meals were missed, friendships seemed to fall apart right and left. The applications felt endless, and I did even fewer than I wanted. Life decisions felt like giant stones to be carried up the mountain. I really doubted if I wanted to go to grad school, whether this was all worth it.
Today. Today was my first day as a “Graduate Student”. Okay, you’re right, technically term started last week and I went to safety training, I know. But today, was my first day sitting at my desk and beginning a new adventure of learning and growing as an academic, an intellectual, and a person.
It feels weird knowing I’ve made it. Nothing feels all that different from five years ago, but nothing feels the same. Everything about this experience is new, but yet, so familiar.
I really haven’t done much yet. I attended more safety lectures, seen enough gruesome pictures of lab accidents that I should be afraid to use scissors to cut paper without causing a spark to ignite a gas leak from the floor below me, set up my desk, begun setting up my computer, read a few pages out of a paper, and got my mug (and promptly told them that my work here was done and I could go home a happy man).
I don’t really know how to describe this feeling — accomplishment, triumph, a halfway viewpoint along a long academic journey, excitement, anticipation, a medley of these and many more. But today, I can finally say “I am a grad student”.