Diary of a Mad Grad Student #1

Moving on and Keeping Motivation Strong

In my stress over grad school and figuring out what my life will look like, I’ve been asking myself questions about my goals and my thoughts about existing as an underrepresented minority in academia. Hopefully, putting my thoughts out there will help other students in a similar place feel less alone and reflect on their role as a scientist. You could call this the first public entry of my diary or a grad student’s soliloquy (without the dramatics of a theater show).

What made me think about writing this in the first place was realizing that I’ve been losing a lot of motivation to finish this first semester of grad school. Even though I put in a ton of work to get to this point and still have big career goals to fill, I keep being reminded of the people who told me that I would fail. The professors that told me, “I’d get kicked out in the first semester,” or “I’m not adequate enough to be a graduate student,” are still stuck in my brain every day that I go to lab and class, and I can’t seem to shake those doubts away in my highs and lows of the semester.

To get that motivation back, I started to think about how I’ve been doing everything I can to survive and push to the next day, but I haven’t been doing the work to make myself thrive. It brought me back to the question of why I love science. What pushes me not just to do what I need to finish my Master’s but to enjoy every day of it? Looking back to how others in positions of power treated me during my undergrad journey, throughout the grad school application process, and even now, I mainly had been forcing myself to finish everything I could out of spite to prove the doubters wrong. I would not only show them that I did it and finished it even when I thought I couldn’t but also tell the little voice in my head that I didn’t have to worry about anything. I am intelligent, capable, and a real scientist, even when they made me feel like I wasn’t. But now that I’ve become a grad student and I don’t have to see these people anytime soon (hopefully, it’s a small campus, after all), I’ve started making solid strides toward prioritizing my mental health and fighting the imposter syndrome and negative thoughts that come in my head. 

My most significant step was to begin counseling, which felt like I was going into an unknown world. It was something I wanted to start during my undergrad, but I didn’t have the time or resources for it, so now, as a grad student with a consistent income, I decided it was time to take that leap! With my counselor, I’ve had more profound reflections and conversations about some of the roots of my imposter syndrome. Not only have I gained a better perspective on how I view the world around me, but I’ve also been able to treat myself better than I have in the last few years. 

There are so many things that my counselor and I have talked about that I could use to show the depth of what I learned, but I think these questions I was asked can give a glimpse of how I’ve been able to grow and move forward. If you’re reading this and have been trying to push yourself to complete your thesis, degree or even get up in the morning, I urge you to reflect on some of these questions. If you have the resources, I would suggest expanding on these questions and ones you’ve been asking yourself in some mental health counseling.

  • How can I better support myself as I finish my M.S. and begin to hit roadblocks in my research? 
  • What is the bigger picture of my work? Does it excite me to go to the lab and work towards completing my thesis?
  • How can I take ownership of my thesis and create a story that will bring new knowledge and understanding to the communities my work will reach? Another question I ended up asking myself while reflecting on this is how can I take myself out of my comfort zone in my project, and have I ever taken myself out of this comfort zone? 

These questions and my responses to them will likely change throughout my program (as my career goals and my thesis grows). Still, they have reminded me why I became a grad student in the first place and what drives me to become a better researcher and science communicator. I’ve been able to recenter myself, and I’m proud to say that I’m proud of the work I’ve put in so far, and I’m excited for what the next year will hold for me.



A Mad (but Motivated) Grad Student

Hi, y'all! I'm Jalen, a Master's student studying Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech! As part of my thesis, I'm researching different ways to build organic cells. I'm a part of Charged Magazine because I want to show my love of science through articles, videos, and interviews. I also hope to educate people about multiple facets of diversity in STEM.