I’ve been a postdoc for three years now, long enough to feel actually graduated, and not long enough to have forgotten grad school.
I drifted into a Ph.D. program, largely because I was academically good and had no other plans. Something like heroin: you just try it once by accident, it gets addictive, and before you know, it defines your life. Many years later, I’m firmly committed to the academic life, with the grinding research, pathetic pay and rare rewards. It’s a conscious choice, and while there is no guarantee whatsoever that I will actually be able to make a career in this field, I’m okay with giving it a shot.
Which is my long and rambly way to bring up the Ph.D. students in my lab. I’m in a lab at a fairy prestigious university, and as such, the students that come to do their Ph.D.s here are extraordinarily bright, pushy, ambitious and hard-working.
They also seem to have no sense of balance: the students in my little division at least. They work all the time. They are here early, leave late, work on weekends, spend all their time in lab and with their labmates. They are full of energy and so driven to succeed, it breaks my heart.
I am an idealist, this is my biggest failing, and my greatest motivator. I was even more of an idealist in grad school, and I worked hard, and did so many things that I just do not have the energy to do now. I look back now, and I see it as a series of emotional stages I passed through, all somehow culminating in my being called Dr. Indian Abroad, and in my continuing to subject myself to the emotional roller-coaster of a postdoc. But more on that later.
I went from futzing around in my first-year into the second-year slump, then into the third-year trough, followed by the frantic fourth-year, culminating in the fifth-year freak-out. My work-style also followed this pattern, going from ignorant but enthusiastic bunny to frustrated lab-rat chasing its tail, and ending up as manic, crazily-focussed, super-endurance athlete. Needless to say, it was a great high while it lasted, but I crashed and burned afterwards.
Life can pass you by in grad school. And sometimes, I just want to tell those driven kids around me to take a break and think about it. Or maybe, they have it right, that is the life that’s worth having. Academics Anonymous anyone?