so, i've mention this before, in passing. but, i didn't get into a lot of details about it. frankly, it was embarrassing and depressing. here goes...

i am a grad student in chemistry in a good program. i am studying for my PhD under an internationally acclaimed chemist. i am one of three black women in the entire department. none of these things do i take for granted. ever. i feel immense pressure everyday. i struggled in the beginning about doing it for myself versus fighting the good fight, based on the statistic that less than 1.56% of chemistry PhDs are awarded to blacks (the statistic itself was so low that it could not be broken down into male or female demographics and the percent error was high). there were a lot of people who wanted to push me out or leave me behind because they felt i could never hack it as a chemist just by looking at me. a lot of people never gave me a chance.

my boss did. we already had a rapport since i had taken a couple of classes with him. he thought i was charming and showed a lot of promise. he dug my inquisitive nature, as most PhD students tend to have a lot of bravado when it comes to how much they know. the chemistry was a little different than my own interests, but it was groundbreaking and respected. so, we gave each other a chance.

those first few months were gloriously hectic. i researched a lot, getting to know a whole area of chemistry that i had initially brushed off, and i spent long hours in the lab doing tedious extractions and purifications. i tend to be a real stickler with that stuff and i take pride in being very precise. but, i was also enjoying my new environment and colleagues. until the newness wore off.

i no longer enjoyed the long hours and the "friends" i had in the lab. i missed my family, my city, my real friends. i missed my old body, before it was wreaked by weight gain and constant stress sickness. i wanted a boyfriend, even if just to have some one to tell me at the end of the day that everything was going to be okay. it was too much to sacrifice. and i wasn't enjoying myself or my 20s. consequently, i wasn't enjoying the process of grad school anymore.

about 4 months ago, the hammer came down. a girl in my lab let it slip that she wasn't doing her due diligence of writing in her lab notebook everyday. our advisor demanded we all turn in our notebooks for inspection. much to the surprise of nobody else but him, all of our notebooks were a disgrace. but it really set him off. many of us were placed on thin ice with him and i no longer enjoyed an easy rapport with my boss. it became a contentious one, one where i would lose a lot of respect for him over the things he began to say and do.

the irony of the entire situation is that the girl who started it all escaped any real trouble. she neglected to tell our advisor that she keeps virtual notes on her laptop. she felt a tremendous guilt about this (in fact she just called me at home because i'm sick today... again) and has offered advice to those of us really feeling the heat. it didn't work fully because one guy, probably the coolest guy in the group, decided he couldn't take it and left the program. what's even sadder is that he had, at most, one year left. also, if you do an inspection of most notebooks of grad students, you would seriously contend a lot of published research.

but honestly, i did lose a lot of the fire i had from the beginning. all of the sacrifice was getting to me and i just wanted myself back. i wanted my happy back. i tried to take it, but as with most things, the shift in the balance meant that my studies suffered. but, from the moment i knew my future as a PhD was in jeopardy, i snapped back into reality. there were no more questions or doubts. i had to fully commit myself and my time. as a consequence, the road trip i had planned is canceled. i also decided to leave my post as social chair of the graduate representative organization. and, maybe i don't really have time for a relationship right now. but, i would come to appreciate what i gave up just to have that much more for myself in the end. i only have about three years left and i want to make my community proud, my family proud, but mostly i want to be proud of myself. there is a small part of me that believes the naysayers...

there's a lot of struggle and sacrifice in grad school, but the payoff is supposed to be that much more rewarding. you give up the best years of your life, in hopes that you are setting yourself up for an even more fantastic future. but i still wonder... when will i know if it was worth it?
4 Responses
  1. ... Says:

    OMG I just saw your response to F*Natural Hair on Curly Nikki...and saw that you watch The Golden Girls! That is my SHOW...I HAD to follow your blog so we could connect, one fan to another! I know your laughing...LOL! BTW glad your a natural curlfriend too! Peace and luv! *)

  2. sarah Says:

    aww! thanks a lot <3
    Golden Girls is the best.
    thanks for following my blog :)
    feel free to to ask questions or make comments!

  3. I'm sorry you feel this way. I can't even imagine the intensity of a PhD - I'm in my final year as an undergraduate and I'm so sick of the so-called university experience...:/ So I feel you immensely.
    Just remember to focus on you! Because it's only you that will be able to get through it right now. I hope it gets better :)

  4. sarah Says:

    thanks for the words of encouragement. it means more than you know, seriously.