Dear Grad School Diary,
Nice to meet you, I’m Kaitlyn–better known across campus and my department as ‘that Ginger Grad!’ I’ve moved my life from one coast to another to start my PhD in East Asian Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I’m more or less your typical grad student: a night owl, a caffeine addict, an introverted bookworm who occasionally pretends to be a social butterfly.
Like all new grads, I feel a mixture of unbounded excitement and unmitigated dread as I attempt to make a name for myself in the Academy™. We’ve all heard the (very real) horror stories of imposter syndrome, absent advisors, dwindling availability of tenure-track positions, and non-existent work-life balance. Any responsible advisor will warn their hopeful undergrads of the overt hardships of the lengthy grad school process; these honest conversations are crucial for allowing us to make an informed, critical decision for our futures. But there’s a lot more to grad school than the big problems of academic life, things that our professors don’t necessarily remember–or remember to tell us about. I’m finding out that it’s these thousand little unexpected and unnamed things that are affecting me most.
Professors and seasoned grad students have been more outspoken recently about issues related to isolation and mental health, but I look for my experiences in their accounts and I don’t really see them. How do you move your personal and academic life across the country? How do you make friends when you live in an apartment complex full of other busy, hermit-leaning grad students? How do you escape isolation and build a lifestyle in a small town without a car? Has anyone had these problems, felt this confused and alone before? I don’t want anyone else to feel alone or to ashamed for asking what I call the ‘little picture’ questions. That’s why I’m starting this diary-style blog: I want to be open about the big and little picture problems that I’m dealing with as a new grad student, and I want to be totally honest about how they make me feel. Plus, more than wanting to share my problems, I want to share my solutions! My hope is that The Grad School Diaries will start a new discussion and become a space in which we all feel comfortable talking about the day-to-day highs and lows of life as a grad student.