Establishing a new home in graduate school

When I moved out to Kansas in January 2014, I had eight months until my new graduate program started.  I decided to move out early because my lease was up on my apartment and I was not too keen on moving back in with my parents.  “All” I had left of my Master’s degree was the written thesis and I knew it would not get done surrounded by distractions at home.  So, my boyfriend (now husband) and I packed up our cars and drove west to Lawrence after the new year.

Two weeks later, we had an apartment, furniture, and my six weeks of constant writing commenced.  I set a tight schedule for myself because I was set to defend March 14, 2014.

Looking back, how did I convince the department to let me schedule a defense without any form of thesis? That seems unheard of at my new university…

My MS research advisor expressed his concerns saying I would have difficult finishing if I left, but considering I’d be without a paycheck whether I stayed or left, I knew I had to get this document done as soon as possible.  Thankfully, my soon-to-be PhD advisor offered me a temporary full-time position prior to the fall semester, but it was contingent on that MS degree. Fortunately, I finished that 224-page thesis in just six weeks, which included emailing that last chapter the Monday before my Friday defense.

Looking back, that whole process was relatively painless.  The biggest challenge was establishing myself at a new research institution.  Usually one can play the “new kid” card, but I had already been working with these scientists for over a year and it would appear that was reason to set me apart from the other students.  Upon starting my new position, I was not treated like a student anymore; I was given more responsibility and I spent a lot more time working with the research staff rather than the students.  I did not realize it was slowly creating a divide between the other students and myself.

Personally, I was happy to start working with a research group that I already knew and tried not to let the opinions of others affect my work.  It worked out well for a while, but I quickly encountered some issues within my office that I attempted to ignore.  I tried to channel that frustration into my work to produce more results and do better work.

I always thought I had to prove myself to others, show that I am worthy of being where I am and how I got there (foreshadowing of imposter syndrome perhaps?).  I worked hard to make it to this point where I could walk into a new graduate program without being concerned.  As students, we are all here for the same reason, right? To get a graduate degree that will help us get the job we want.  While this remains true in some regard, my perspective certainly differed from others in my office as to how to achieve that goal.

My ultimate goal since high school has been to work in the research sector whether it be at another geological survey or university-affiliated research institution.  I want to do research where my thoughts and interests can be explored without too many constraints all while focusing on surface wave dispersion and how this phenomena interacts with subsurface material properties.  In the my current research section, I get to do just that and it’s incredible, but apparently that is not why a majority of the other students are here.

Not that it is a bad thing, after all I am a PhD student and theoretically PhD’s want to do research, right? So the fewer projects other students take on, the more opportunities I have to get my hands dirty in so many other projects.  Think of all the paper opportunities.  Think of all the time I do not spend on writing, but probably should spend writing…  I know I have a list (or four) somewhere on my desk.

Yours in ladygeoscience,
Sarah

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