Dear grad students
As a recently graduated PhD, I completely understand your stress, your worry, your anxiety, your exhaustion, your endless sense of uncertainty, your feeling that even though you do all you can, it’ll never be good enough. Before I graduated, I heard lots of scary things from my mentors- that it would never end, that things get even more stressful after graduation, that in order to be successful you have to work nights and weekends for the rest of your life, that I’d have to pick between research and clinical work.
I want you to know those are scare tactics, not reality.
Life gets better post-PhD. I sleep better, my skin is clearer, I’m more mindful, my immune system is better, I can focus on TV enough to watch an entire episode of Sherlock, I’m more motivated and able to do fun social things in my free time- and I actually have free time!
And it’s still possible to be successful at work. I spent college and grad school learning how to work well. How to work efficiently and effectively. How to prioritize my responsibilities. How to learn new things. How to set my own deadlines. How to work with other people, who may have completely different working styles. How to receive critical feedback. How to live in an uncertain world and be confident in myself anyway.
Now I use all those skills, and my mentors and colleagues take me seriously. They trust my skills and my work. I don’t have to prove myself constantly anymore. Work is better. It’s easier, and I’m more effective.
Best of all, getting out of grad school has ended the tunnel vision grad school creates. I can see my whole life now, and prioritize what I want, rather than only seeing grad school stretching into the endless future. My whole identity doesn’t have to be centered around grad school. My goals don’t have to be solely academic.
Which is amazing because I get to be a complete person, and because it means I have more options for my life. The further I get away from grad school, the more I realize I don’t have to get that tenure track job at some super prestigious university to be happy or successful. I have options. And I can pick what’s important to me- the perfect job, the perfect institution, the perfect financial package, the perfect location. I don’t have to put academic success first in order to be a good scientist or to prove myself. I can pursue the right life for me.
You can, too. You can make it to the other side. You can pursue happiness and success. Keep going.