Rolling with the Punches: Coping with Change in Grad School

Entering the second semester of my master’s, I was following my proposed schedule perfectly. I had completed all of my required course work, applied for funding, and helped with data collection for our second year master’s student. I learned how to use relevant processing programs for my lab work, read what felt like one million articles, and put it all together to develop my thesis topic. From there, I wrote my literature review (after reading more articles), worked tirelessly to process pilot data, and even found an undergraduate student who was willing to help me. Finally, my formal thesis proposal presentation was one month away. I went into my weekly lab meeting feeling very accomplished, ready to informally present my progress and finalize what was going into my presentation.

During that meeting, my thesis topic changed.

Just like that, everything I had been working on for the past 8 months was now irrelevant. My literature review, most of the articles I had read, my pilot data processing. My thesis proposal was scheduled to be in one month, and I had to start again.

I felt overwhelmed. I felt confused. I felt like this was a challenge, and I had something to prove.

So I started again from the very beginning. I shifted my focus, I read what felt like one million (maybe more) new articles, and I re-wrote my literature review. I worked on new pilot data, I presented my new thesis topic to our industrial research partner, and I developed a new thesis proposal document. Against all odds, I did it! I presented my formal thesis proposal on the originally scheduled date.

I learned a lot about grad school and about myself during what was one of the most stressful yet productive months of my life. I learned that I work better under pressure (with lots of coffee beside me), and that setting incremental goals helps me prioritize what is most important for achieving my “big picture” target. That’s one of the most exciting parts of grad school – you figure out the conditions in which you work best, develop problem solving skills you never thought possible, and can push yourself personally and academically to ultimately accomplish the task at hand, no matter how big or small.

People told me that graduate school was going to be a challenge, even a struggle at certain points, and I have to say that they were right, but in the best way possible. Looking back, I’m happy that my thesis topic changed because I feel good about the progress I made between then and now. It really put into perspective that I cannot control everything (no matter how hard I try!), but I was able to roll with the punches and everything worked out for the best in the end.

 

Banner image by Frederico Cintra // Flickr

One thought on “Rolling with the Punches: Coping with Change in Grad School

  1. Great post, Aleks! It must have been a devastating meeting, but in the end you came out stronger. It seems like this happens a lot in grad school (and in life!). Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

    Like

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