Forget baseball, there is DEFINITELY crying in science

Today’s blog post comes straight from the request line. At the behest of my adoring public we are going to delve into the subject of–wait for it–crying in science. A strange topic perhaps but let my motives be clear. There is something very cathartic about knowing that you are not the only graduate student who has simply lost it on some poor unsuspecting peer (or in my case several faculty members). And if nothing else you can laugh mercilessly at me as I sacrifice my pride for the greater good. For those of you without a flare for the dramatic 1) I have nothing in common with you and 2) keep reading anyway.

Now in an effort for full disclosure it is not difficult to make me cry. It’s my default reaction. Sad-cry, happy-cry, frustrated-cry, can’t stand one more failed luciferase assay-cry. That being said I have been working fairly tirelessly to try and curb the reaction in the professional setting. However, as my fellow graduate students know, the stress of this job can crack even the most hardened individuals and it often sneaks up on you. One of my favorite stories involves me losing my mind in my boss’s office one afternoon. My mom had called me to tell me (in the middle of the day no doubt) that a family pet had passed away and I was, I feel, appropriately sad. The weird thing is that instead of going to the bathroom to cry and compose myself before finishing the experiment I was doing like a normal person I instead went to my boss’s office and mumbled incoherently about science and pets while sobbing like a child…awesome. Now lucky for me my boss is just about the nicest person you could ever meet, but I think that was his baptism into the church of Katy crazy. I’ve assuaged my embarrassment by telling myself that I was just preparing him for having a teenage daughter…he’ll thank me later.

There have, of course, been other occasions where I’ve cried in front of my boss, the director of my graduate program (sorry Allison!), the afore lauded Jeanne Sutter, countless friends, several thesis committee members, and a couple qualifying exam committee members if I’m not mistaken. In an effort to be brief (HA!) however we can save those stories for some wine-soaked happy hour down the road.

The thing is that graduate school is crazy difficult and probably not in the way you initially expected. Sure classes and exams are hard, the quals are maddening, and bench work is draining and often disappointing, but I’ve come to realize a totally different kind of stress in graduate school that I was completely unprepared for. We’ve been conditioned to handle acute stressful situations throughout high school and college—a tough exam, a huge paper, the GRE/MCAT—but in grad school the stress doesn’t peak and decline nearly as much. It’s more of a low level of constant stress that tends to eat your brain in a whole different way. Eventually there are no grades to reassure you that you’re on track and expecting atta boys from faculty is beyond mad. The message I really want to impart to you (particularly the newbie’s) is that everyone—I mean it, EVERYONE—thinks about quitting, grows to hate science for at least a little bit, and loses their mind in one way or another. It’s normal, sadistic but normal. Hang in there and lean on other students for advice, they are your lifeline to reality. Oh and lastly, leave your boss alone and come find me if you need to cry. I’ve got dues to pay.

10 responses to “Forget baseball, there is DEFINITELY crying in science

  1. Katy-
    You made me laugh so much that I was crying! Good thing I have a box of tissues right by the chair most students occupy when they stop in!

  2. Katy,
    What a wonderfully written put yourself out there piece. You are exhibiting qualities of empathy and humility which I have come to believe are most often obscured in others by the aquired aversion to feeling and releasing their painful emotion. Seeking another’s attention and letting out what is building up inside is a natural healing activity. Atta girl for putting yourself out there to help your fellow candidates

  3. I love reading your stuff, Katy. So real and down-to earth, and tell-it-like-it is! I am sure your fellow students can identify; keep those wonderful articles coming!

  4. Where is the “like” button on this page? This is so true, and so nice to hear even for those of us who are no longer “newbies”. Thanks Katy!

  5. i’ve cried in front of jeff, possible allison, and hoards of others. a little embarrassing but hey, what’s new?

    and i totally wanted to quit and hated science…i think for more than a year i felt that way. but it passed eventually.

  6. first year ohsu grad student here: found myself sobbing alone in the bathroom today after a humiliatingly failed experiment, feeling like my life was unraveling before my eyes – your post really goes a long way to reassure me that maybe I’m still on track after all. Thanks a lot for your candor.

  7. Oh, the crying. I have no shame about it anymore. Everyone in my lab has seen me cry, including my PI, on multiple occasions. The bathroom *is* a good place to hide out, but if you can go find a friend to cry to, I guarantee you will be able to return the favor for them before too long. Basically, this is a stressful gig, and you need to use your support network to help you through, no matter who it might be.

  8. Anonymous I’m so sorry to hear you had such a rough day! I was 0/3 with science yesterday if it makes you feel any better. Hang in there, you are undoubtedly still on the right track and I’m not kidding if you need a place to cry. 🙂

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments everyone!

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