First Semester

What was my first semester like?

A fire and brimstone lake of eternal torment and woe would have been a day at the beach.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it was rough.  I did manage to pull out a 4.0 for the semester, but I will tell you – I had to work for that sucker.

They say the first semester is the worst because of the adjustment and all that.  I certainly hope they are right.  I cannot even imagine things being worse than that.  Don’t let this deter you if you want to go back to school or get your PhD.  I’m still here and doing it, you can too.

But for real….y’all.  They are not playing when they say it is tough.

The first adjustment was living in a whole new state that gives me 100 degree summers and -8 degree (or maybe worse, Idk) winters.  It’s windy and hot and cold and stupid.  It’s just stupid all the time when it comes to the weather.  I pulled out my Tennessee winter coat in October and people were like “I like your jacket” – Jacket??  This is my coat.  They laughed.  I bought an actual coat.

The next adjustment was having no support network.  When you have 5 kids, you need warm bodies to help watch them on occasion.  I will go ahead and say, although we were separated, their dad picked up and moved from Virginia to Nebraska to help us out.  He knew I couldn’t do this alone.  He was so right.  I would never have survived if he hadn’t been here with us.  But even with his help, there is a huge benefit to having a community – that whole village thing.  Having to build that while being a student is tough, but it is doable.  I now have friends – people who I can count on to help if I need help.  I have several friends and it feels so great.  That’s one thing that should make this second semester easier.

A third adjustment was, of course, the workload.  SO. MUCH. WORK.  Tons of reading, especially journal articles, tons of books, tons of papers, tons of meetings.  Okay, so side rant – what is up with all of the meetings?  Why are there SO many meetings in grad school?  We have research group meetings and department meetings and training meetings, and lab meetings.  I know how to use an fMRI machine that I will probably never ever use, but by golly, I am trained to do so.

I took 2 stats classes last semester – thinking it would be a brilliant move.  It wasn’t.  Maybe it was.  I’m not sure.  It kinda got me out of taking a class other members of my cohort were dying in, so maybe it was good.  In any event, those classes sucked up a lot of time, but now I know what I’m doing when it comes to data analysis.  That’s a win.

Another adjustment is realizing that I am not the biggest, baddest, badass around.  In undergrad, there was a point when I could look around and realize that I was leagues beyond other students.  This is not the case in grad school.  Everyone in grad school is there because they are badasses.  Most of the time, I feel like I am stupid and don’t belong there.  It’s this weird balancing act between realizing I’m smart and belong there but knowing I’m not smarter than anyone else around me.  It’s weird.

The last huge adjustment was missing time with my kiddos.  I felt like I was behind all semester, and I pushed myself to be perfect.  Grad school isn’t about being perfect – it is about getting it done well enough.   I would often spend 7 days a week on campus.  I missed out on a lot of family time.  People (mostly those without kids) would tell me, “you need to make time for your family.  You shouldn’t be here so much.”   While I know they were well-intentioned comments, I still wanted to poke them in the forehead and say “NO”.  It is easy for someone without kids to give that advice.

Having said that – my children are never ever ever my excuse to not do what needs to be done.  I may choose them over nonessential things, but I will go 3 days without sleep if it means I make my deadlines and do my work.  Being a mom is not an excuse.  It is the reason to do something.  I let my children see me struggle because it shows them that the best things in life are worth struggling for.

Despite how bad it seems from this post, grad school is really one of the best things in life.  It’s one of the best things in my life, and it is one of the best things in my children’s lives.  They are proud of their mom, and I am proud of me.  I think I wanted to quit at least once a day, every day for the entire first semester.  However, seeing that 4.0 was enough to make me go through Winter break without wondering if I should quit.  I will not quit.

The first semester was a success.  Now, on to the second semester.

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