Sometimes it is hard to feel like you are making any progress at all, no matter how hard you try. Every time I think I have something figured out, it turns out that I had missed taking something else into account, so I am really back to square one. You would think as a scientist, I would be more accepting of failure and be able to gallantly pick up the pieces and move on and try again. But here’s a little secret about our lot – we’re human too!
I have heard it told many times that grad school can be a hard and uncertain place. To be honest, I had never really thought of it that way. I had entered my current lab as an undergraduate and dove right into the research because I found it fun and interesting. Over time, I had worked on many different projects and enjoyed learning about a variety of topics and many different techniques. I never really worried too much about “what’s next” because I always assumed I am going to continue having fun the way I am now, though perhaps in a different location and doing different things.
Yet now, I feel rather uncertain as I edge into my final year. My life has been in a flux recently and I feel like I cannot devote as much time as I should be towards my research. I have several publications but much of that work was done before I developed fibromyalgia. There is no way I can keep up that level of productivity with my current hours. I cannot imagine who would want to give me a postdoc job (something I had always banked on) and so I am having to look towards other directions for jobs for recent Ph.D.s. That is an scary outfield period for anyone trained only to find a job in academia; it is doubly hard for somebody who is also juggling a chronic illness and wondering whether the job description will fit their needs, when and how to disclose their problem, what types of accommodations to ask for and when and how, etc. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I am still hoping I can do a postdoc with an advisor who will be willing to let me work at my pace, so I don’t have to jeopardize my health for my career – something I am convinced is totally NOT worth it! But my hopes are low on that one.
On the health front, I feel like I am shooting completely in the dark. Every time I hit or miss, I take a note of that and make a mental map of the place that I am in. Trouble is, I am never quite in the same place and a target I hit once may never get hit again. I try the scientific method when deciding what works and what doesn’t, or what may be the best approaches to tackle a flare with, based on published literature and personal experiences. But keeping an objective view of yourself as the subject while also being the observing scientist is hard on the best of days. It is made doubly difficult when your brain goes foggy and a storm descends on your senses.
All of this brings me to the featured image, my 11X14 oil painting titled “Inner Turmoil.” I painted it some time ago when I felt like the wave that is doomed to crash on the rock surface on a dark and stormy night, yet one that insists on doing it with flare!
Along with portraying thoughts I could not put in words at the time, it also made me ask the quintessential question of why the wave doesn’t give up. I suppose the simple answer is that it simply cannot! It is not its own boss, it is governed by the gravitational forces of the earth and moon. And I think we are all somewhat like that. There is a part of us that stops us from ever giving up. Graduate students and chronic illness fighters are both known to be a resilient lot. We have to be I suppose! And so we keep chugging along and keep hitting that rock, chipping away at it a little at a time, hoping that one day we will be able to wear it down and flow masterfully over it.
P.S. A huge thank you to my dear friend S.G.B. for providing a lovely home to my painting. I hope the painting sings for her the same tune of resilience in the face of all odds as it is does for me.