Papers, assignments, and coursework complete — Check!
Pass end of the year reviews — Check!
Grading and grades complete for teaching — Check!
Pass my own classes with a 4.0 — Check!

First year as a PhD student — CHECK!

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It’s hard to believe that I’m already a year into my PhD program and I’ve been back in Tallahassee again for nearly a full year.

This past school year flew by in a whirlwind of school work, social activities, and lots of shenanigans, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I feel more satisfied and comfortable with my life here, than during either of my two years in Washington.

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As the year wrapped up, some of the first year student were talking about whether or not our experiences this past year lived up to our initial exceptions and I can safely said my life here is exactly as I imagined and hoped. Sure, there were moments when I was stressed out and frazzled, or other moments when I was frustrated by various people or the system, but overall there have been no curve-balls, only serendipitous moments.

Looking back on the Letter to a Future PhD Student, that I wrote in August prior to school starting, I’d say that everything I wrote about and the emotions that I anticipated were spot-on. I certainly experienced many, many instances of feeling “stupid” or “not getting it,” and yet I persevered. I even had a moment recently where I felt frustrated because I couldn’t see the progress that I’d made this year. But then as I worked on a paper for one of my classes, I used a theoretical lens to support my own analysis and I realized I’ve actually come a long way since last August.

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Overall, this year has been quite the PhD balancing act. Sometimes I succeeded in balancing all the different facets of my life and other times I failed miserably, but just as grad school is about the process not the product, so is life.

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One of my major successes involved taking my own advice and creating a network of friends, both so I could reached out for help when I needed it and as a means of social interaction.

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Sometimes I get the feeling that making friends and having fun isn’t always viewed in a favorable light in academia, but after my MA and two years in Washington I knew that in order to keep myself in a balanced and happy place, I need to get away from school and enjoy life every so often.

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Then on the flip side, one of my failures for this past year was my lack of a regular exercise routine. Despite running two half marathons, I never quite established a schedule for my running and strength training goals and as a result they were sidelined.

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Therefore, this summer and next year, I am going to focus more on incorporating fitness into my life.

After my first semester, I made a list of goals for spring semester, which included avoiding procrastination, being more social, and finding a roommate. For the most part, I managed to accomplish all of the tasks that I set out for myself.

While I aimed to be more social, in reality I think what I really wanted was to make some real friendships. In hindsight, I was social during fall semester, spring semester I ended up making real friends.

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But you know the problem with making friends in grad school? They end up leaving eventually.

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For the past few weeks, it’s been an endless stream of farewell dinners, goodbye lunches, end-of-the-semester trivia nights, and “we survived our first year” parties.

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Although I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made this year (or those who only left for the summer), I am really looking forward to next year. Instead of starting over, I already have an established group of awesome friends. And while I know that school won’t necessarily be “easier,” I at least have a pretty good idea of how to handle the chaos that is the PhD balancing act.

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