It has commonly been said that the grass is always greener on the other side. For graduate students, the other side often means leaving the world of academic serfdom that is grad school and moving on to, hopefully, “bigger and better things”. Grad students dream of a time when work ends when you leave the office, when weekends become a thing again, and when things like “hobbies” and “free time” become more than just abstract concepts. I finished my Masters degree in July, and have since made it over to the other side- the mythical land of the “real job”. Turns out, the grass on both sides is mostly green, with little patches of brown that grow or shrink depending on how I’m feeling that day. So for all of you students out there dreaming of the real world, here is my assessment of the things you have to look forward to, but also, the blessings you should count while you still can.
In grad school, work and home life often merge, making it difficult to separate the two. Most students don’t have defined work hours, meaning that late nights and weekend work are often unavoidable. So when I got hired to a job with a specifically defined schedule, I was excited. And for the most part, I was right to be- my evenings now belong only to me, and my weekends are free to be weekends. However, I do miss the flexibility of creating my own schedule. For example, I currently have to get to work between 6:30 and 7 am, meaning I am up and out of the house before the sun rises every day. But sometimes (read: all the time) it just feels good to get started at a more reasonable hour, and as a grad student, I was free to choose which hour that was on any given day.
Grad students also have the chance to be relatively autonomous in their decisions about their research, from choosing a project that interests them, to making decisions about which direction to take it. This can often feel like a burden, though, as every thesis-related decision seems to carry the weight of potentially pushing your graduation date even farther off into the distance. I remember sometimes wishing that someone could just write out a list of tasks that I could check off and know I was on the right track. However, it turns out that after years of essentially being your own boss, it’s a hard adjustment to have to run everything you do by someone, often multiple someones, before you can do it.
But most of all, I miss all of the great friends I made in grad school. Don’t get me wrong, I have probably the greatest group of co-workers in all of the Pacific. But I think there’s a special bond that forms through joint struggle that will make my friendships with my grad school friends stronger than with most. On hard days as a grad student, knowing there was someone in your lab or just next door who would totally understand your angst was so helpful, and periodic venting sessions were an essential tool for survival! These days, I try to stay close to my grad school ‘ohana by crashing lab parties, leaving all of my old research equipment around the lab so they have to call me from time to time, and writing guest blogs on the Donahue Lab page!