The Best is Yet to Come: Reflections on Graduate School

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from Kelly Chacón, who graduates June 5 with her doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Sometimes I like to tell people that graduate school is a lot like marriage, but to a place and people that you love, but aren’t, like, in love with.

This feeling about grad school has only sharpened now that I am a newly-minted Ph.D. (well, so long as I get my butt in gear and incorporate the pile of edits my thesis committee has requested). Anyway, I find myself waxing nostalgic about my experiences of the past five years…to a point. So here, in these two posts, I will try to summarize the insanity of my time as doctoral candidate as well as some of the highlights along the way. Brace yourselves, because it will be a lot like an episode of M*A*S*H* – one part maudlin, and one part irreverent…and completely fueled by gin.*

Let’s see…years one and two: Instantaneously gaining 10 pounds (still with me three years later), overwhelming imposter syndrome, fleeting – false – moments of feeling smart, and overall indignation at the way I had only gone from being an “undergraduate baby” in the eyes of the world to “graduate baby.” Arrrrgh I’m 29 years old for crying out loud, I’m not a baby anymore! JUST FORGET IT I’LL BE IN MY ROOM WITH MY SMITHS ALBUMS, OK?!

Good times! No, but seriously – at least I was in grad school, actually getting paid to do science in a nice university and with a pretty cool mentor, too.


On to the third year: I refer to any graduate student’s third year as “the year of darkness,” because this seems to be when any weaknesses will come to the surface and haunt us. This was the year I tried to write my first journal article manuscript and did a terrible job on it and also had a rough time on my part one qualifying exam. When I received some (totally legit!) negative feedback it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I just sort of noped out into a state of self-doubt and awfulness. However, I came out of my third year with 1) an appreciation for the counselors at student health and 2) the realization that grad school isn’t for the “perfect” people…instead, it’s for the tenacious.

In the fourth year, one starts to realize that they might actually be able to finish this thing. I became more comfortable at OHSU, and got more involved in the Graduate Student Organization (A++, would do again). Plus, my science started to gain some traction. Finally, I went to some really reaffirming scientific conferences. It really is comforting to meet up with your fellow “people” from around the world – folks in your sub-field who geek out on the same science, and who also love karaoke, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pub crawls. The fourth year is also the time of ermahgerd, do I need to find a postdoc soon? Cue me making a fool of myself at the above conferences trying to get the attention of my desired post-doc PIs (all of whom really just wanted to drink with their kindred geek friends) while near my scientific poster. Sigh.

* (Oh, come on – don’t lie and tell me that you’ve never watched M*A*S*H*. I know you are a grad student at a medical university and you want distinguish yourself, but don’t play a player. Not that I’ve ever lied about watching M*A*S*H* or anything…)

Stay tuned for Part II of The Best is Yet to Come.

4 responses to “The Best is Yet to Come: Reflections on Graduate School

  1. I will miss your posts, Kelly. You are such an amazing person, speaker, and will make an outstanding professor at Reed College!

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