This feels a bit like cheating that I am not writing this reflection until the night before the next semester begins, the day that this will be posted. But this is mainly because I did not have a break for either holiday, Thanksgiving, or Winter. I was working the entire time: either writing for my preliminary exam or a paper that I hope to have published within the next year or working on experiments. Want to know how little I had a break? I had to go in on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I pretty much went in every single day. I’m tired and want a break. Again, unfortunately, the new semester is tomorrow/today. I have no thoughts, really. I’m just tired.
There are many views of what happens after we die, and while we might argue about what happens, there is something we should all believe in common: that our life on Earth matters. While the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom does show a view of life after death, that is not the important part of the book. Instead, the lessons the story tries to get across in the most important thing.
While this book may argue that those lessons can be learned after death, I feel great lessons should be learned in life. Everything is connected in a way, and you do not really know the entire story are some of the lessons to be learned. Your religious views do not matter here but do come in with an open mind to what is being taught. There is a sequel that I plan on getting around to within the next couple of weeks, but I wonder what lessons await me.
I have started writing this the day I finished my last final for the semester. Well, you could say it was my only final. Either way, it’s over with, and I can relax until late January. Now, I couldn’t say I have the most typical grad school experience with a pandemic and all. All of my classes were online, an experience I must say that I never had before. Also had meetings entirely online. Zoom was the entire way that we connected with others. Even though we were distant, I could still tell I was the only African American woman in my year. The only African American. At this point, I’m the only African American student in my department, from what I have seen, wandering around the halls whenever I was trying to figure out what I was doing with my life in between meetings.
I also felt very isolated semester. The halls were silent of people, and my main company were those from my lab and the pictures that joined me in my Zoom meetings. Even though I really only interacted with six or seven people in real life, I did have some fantastic groups that I really enjoyed: a graduate student and post-doc organization, an accountability group, and two book clubs.
First, let’s start with the organization. This was done through my home department and is a way for everyone to get together and talk about things. In a way, this felt like the only part that tried to still have get-togethers and lunch together. What we would do would be to get take-out lunch boxes and eat together over zoom. It wasn’t everything, but it felt that someone was trying to do something while in this pandemic.
The other two groups were more so based on an outside department in charge of all the graduates, aptly named the Graduate College. Anyway, this accountability group had me working for three hours at night with a couple of people every week. It is also where I learned the joy of the Pomodoro technique. 25 minutes on. 5 minutes off. It is now the only way I do work. It keeps my eyes from going wholly turned inside out. I wasn’t doing school work for three hours, but I did get a lot of work done on my personal projects. Not only that, but I’m probably going to keep it up through the next semester,
Also, I was part of two reading groups. This semester I read Degrees of Difference: Reflections of Women of Color on Graduate School by Kimberly D. McKee and Denise A. Delgado and Deep Work by Cal Newport. I personally enjoyed reading Degrees of Difference. It was a way of preparing myself for all the grad school might offer for me. This semester, I felt privileged that I did face any harassment based on my race or sex. I was also privileged to have a group filled with many people of color, a rarity from my science lab’s experience. It was a welcome change from what I was used to seeing and had prepared myself for.
Now, I’m going to get a lot of flake for my opinion on this, but I didn’t really enjoy reading Deep Work. I agree with some of the points that Newport made but hated reading the book. Often, it felt like he was coming from a privileged position and didn’t realize that others do not have the same luxury that others have. He relented somewhat to the social media front for socializing functions when friends or when it may be something necessary for work. There was so much I felt that he was overlooking. But that could easily be because he has never seen or experienced nor talked to someone who was in a situation much different from himself. He sure didn’t interview people much different from himself. In short, I agree with the idea but disagree highly with the execution.
Other than that, I’ve been working on a couple of projects in between classes and seminars (as of writing this, I have not yet gotten my final grades). It was fun. I’ve been learning many techniques around the lab and getting competent at doing experiments by myself. I also have spent tons of time reading journal articles. Honestly, I’m starting to understand some of what the people are saying. I still have to use a lot of brainpower to read the papers, but it is getting easier.
Other than that, I don’t really have anything to report. If anything happens, I’ll be sure to let you know.