Life From The Trenches

Pvt. Clarence Jones, in a slit trench. African Americans served with bravery and distinction despite prejudicial treatment in WW2.
[Source: Jesse Sublett, Howlin’ Wolf in The US Army]

When I hear the word trenches, I think of fighting hard in the depths of a war (as in numerous battles spanning years). I would say that is where I am at right now. And as all soldiers do, I take both honor and pride in sharing that.

I recently unconditionally passed my Oral Preliminary Exam (the second of the three Ph.D. milestones) and now I can call myself a “DOCTORAL CANDIDATE.” Though it is a great feat, it does not feel as amazing as I thought it would sound right now. While preparing my proposal document and presentation, I was also finishing up a couple publications and starting analysis on another.

I was so overwhelmed to the point that I literally I found myself bursting into tears at the mere thought of walking into the room to present to my committee(yeah it got that bad). Now that I have finally overcome this huge hardship filled hump, I thought I would be ready to bounce back after taking a week off. Unfortunately, I came back as everything else but rejuvenated.

I was definitely nowhere near the same deep work mindset I had before my Oral Preliminary Exam. I was gearing myself up to write this amazing post about how if I beat my anxious thinking and all that jazz… but Nah. Instead, I came back feeling even more drained. I returned with flu-like symptoms, allergies kicking my ass, and a strong intolerance of all things research related. I’m pretty sure I was burnt out.

This is actually pretty unfortunate because I have a reasonable amount of research work to do. I have an informal 2-page document to send to my committee with a few thesis project updates. Ask me how far I’ve gotten with it? *waits for you to ask* That’s right you guessed it—nowhere. At this point, I had about an entire month to do it and I just put words on paper. But I am realizing now that that’s perfectly fine too.

I was talking to my advisor the other day and I was telling him about how I was feeling extremely “over it” in terms of research. I let him know that I am unsure if the pace I have been maintaining is supposed to be sustainable. To my surprise, he not only told me that it’s not, but also that it’s not meant to be. He mentioned to me that research progress is one that often oscilicates—with its strenuous times of paper deadlines and leisurely times when we have a steady pace to plant new ideas in our research garden. Similar to high-intensity interval training, the rest in between is just as important as the activity. In fact, I probably should have been taking more breaks earlier😅, but for now, I’m just trying to be mindful.

The main point I wanted to get across is that sometimes(really a lot of the time) this Ph.D. gets challenging, as in mentally challenging, but that’s okay. I’m basking in that right now. I find great honor in sharing my personal war story. Based on my run-ins with other battles, I figure that I will shake out of this someday. As for now, I’m making the best of it and trying to remember to take my breaks as I continue…Ph.D. life from the trenches.

Got a personal war story to share?  Tips for overcoming burnout? We would love to hear them in the comments below!


UPDATE: I finally sent my thesis updates to my committee. lol yay progress🙌🏾

One thought on “Life From The Trenches

  1. I got to see your talk at Michigan today, and I had to check out your blog. Having just passed my own oral preliminary exam barely a month ago, as always, it feels like a relief to know that one is not alone in this miserable feeling and that it is alright. Also, it is so amazing to see you giving job talks just a year from then! Congratulations. 🙂


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