I made a mess of my first year in graduate school, starting with selecting a research group too early. I joined a group in July, before the school year started, and began doing work right away. I can't say I regret my choice, but I do wish now that I'd listened more carefully to the advice of one of my committee members, which was to consider doing research that had a variety of commercial and industrial applications since I wasn't certain I wanted to be an academic and wasn't exceptionally passionate about any particular sub-field of chemical physics. Opportunities in experimental chemical dynamics are, shall we say, limited. Most of the people I know with degrees or postdoctoral experience in said field are now working in a different one.
During my first quarter, I took four classes, did research, taught my least favorite subject to my least favorite type of student (organic chemistry lab to pre-meds) and held down a part-time tutoring job to help pay the the rent, against my hastily-selected advisor's wishes. Every time I thought I had a handle on one thing (got all my grading finished on time; ran a successful midterm review session for the class I was teaching), I'd find I'd let something important slip (hadn't studied hard enough for my own mid-terms; missed a tutoring appointment because I forgot
). I had visible facial piercings at the time. My appearance attracted a lot of interest. While some of it was positive (my students loved it), some of it was definitely negative. One of the professors for whom I taught treated me with scarcely concealed distaste. I felt inadequate and stupid a great deal of the time, even when I was given tangible proof of success, like the award I won for teaching quantum chemistry.
I also took the opportunity to screw up interpersonal relationships with spectacular bridge-burning efficacy. I ended one long-term relationship. It was already foundering due to my choice of school, but the physical distance put the nail in the coffin. I began another relationship that far outlived its welcome. I drank too much. I smoked a lot. I selected an emotional vampire for a confidante.
I survived because I made some amazing friends, including Dr. Julia
, who would be my officemate and a source of support and inspiration for five years. (Also, he taught me how to juggle.) I survived because my advisor had such infectious drive and energy. I survived because I cried a lot, and then I'd get pissed off and refuse to quit though I often said I would. The first year was an emotionally exhausting, intellectually draining experience and you couldn't pay me to put myself through it again. As its humiliating memories faded into the past, as research consumed the bulk of my energy, I started to forget, or rather I didn't have time to think about it since clearly I haven't forgotten.
It was worth it. Just barely, but it was worth it.