It’s 20:05 on a Saturday and I’m on my way home from the lab.
I’m not about to complain (seriously)- had I not been working today I’d be in my room, mindlessly watching YouTubers doing 30,000-calorie challenges, or chefs struggling to make taramasalata.
It seemed like yesterday that I left everything, everyone I knew and moved to Italy for my PhD. Yesterday I strolled casually through the alleys of Rome, eagerly exploring the city that I shall call home. Yesterday I dismissed remarks at my first TAC meeting that I had an overly ambitious project.
Somehow I’m already in my final year- here’s how it’s going:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that PhD students are at high risk of developing mental disorders. In the case of students and researchers who’ve moved abroad primarily for work, it often meant that work is the pivot of our lives. When experimental results (or the lack there of) are discouraging, everything is confusing and stressful, it’s easy to lose sense of it all- what am I doing? Why am I trying to go through all this?
Yes- we’re supposed to have friends and hobbies. I’m immensely blessed to have close friends in the lab who are my life support, and an extremely supportive and tolerant supervisor. Still, language and cultural differences, and irregular, exhausting working hours render it almost impossible to develop strong bonds with people outside of work, or with the city. Maybe I ought to try harder- others have managed before me. This thought doesn’t help me feel less like a failure or less isolated. I’m not working nights and weekends for brownie points- there’s just no home to gravitate to.
I’ve been trying to find some things to do outside of lab work. One of these things is distance running.
Here’s how running a half marathon typically feels like to me:
- 0-8km: warming up, a bit effortful but no pains, don’t feel like I’m going fast
- 8-14km: limbs are finally in the right gear! Everything feels right and I seemed to be picking up pace
- 14-18km: increasingly tired… not sure if I can finish the race running, small aches start, counting down km by km
- 18-20km: what’s the worst that can happen- I walk pass the finish line. I hope I don’t get cramps.
- 20-21.095km: so close to finishing! just keep going
This is how my perceived pace compare to my actual pace:
At ~17km, I’m no longer squealing in excitement to encouraging-looking data, but at the same time, I’m not demotivated by experimental failure. I am learning to be critical, to objectively follow up leads, to rationally break down problems, to stay organised, to focus on small to-do lists instead ambitious goals.
At times, I’m envious of the enthusiasm and curiosity of new students. Some of my peers have published good papers. But hey– I’m not shooting for medals.
I just want to finish the race running.
*Unless you’re good at not giving up
Extended reading: Analyse the migration of scientific researchers