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Taking a trip down the PhD memory lane

Taking a trip down the PhD memory lane
Jun 07, 2019 596 views

One of the key tenants of mindfulness is to be present in the moment. While it’s been a struggle, slowly adopting this perspective has been transformative to my lifestyle, as I’m one of those people who always likes to have a plan, especially for the future. Although presently, I’m in graduate school and actively doing research towards my PhD, I’m often struggling with feelings and anxiety related to the “impostor syndrome.” Many of you may be familiar with (and have even experienced) impostor syndrome, but for those who aren’t familiar, impostor syndrome, simply put, is a strong feeling of not being good enough or qualified enough to be in your current position.

For me, I think impostor syndrome is largely connected to my background as a first-gen college student, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’m always critical and hard on myself. When I get caught up in these low moments of being especially hard on myself and worrying that I’m not good enough, I try to take a moment to remember where I currently am. Then, I also like to take a small amount of time to reflect on how I’ve gotten to this position.

If you have a moment, I want to take a trip down memory lane with you – a part of my journey to graduate school. I grew up in southwest Michigan, and I stayed in Michigan to obtain my undergraduate degree. During undergrad, I was exposed to many “critical factors” as I’ll call them. The first “critical factor” was a whole department of faculty who cared about their students, and in particular, my first research mentor. Dr. Lee accepted me into her lab as a bright-eyed, excited, and oblivious (I had never stepped foot into a research lab before) college freshman. I began going to “the lab” in between and after classes where I would wash the lab dishes and learn from the graduate students and Dr. Lee about the research that was being conducted. The second “critical factor” was the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at CMU, which I was accepted into during my 2nd year of college. Through the McNair Scholars Program, I was funded to do my first summer research project with Dr. Lee. More importantly, I learned that there is funding to do research in graduate school to obtain a PhD. My mind was blown! I remember thinking, “What?! They will pay me to go to school to do research and get a graduate degree?!”

I’d like to pause here to emphasize that for me, as a first-generation college student, higher education/graduate school was a black box. I didn’t know anything about it – from what the different degrees were, to how you apply, and any of the funding situations. Thanks to my “critical factors” (especially the McNair Scholars Program), I quickly learned all of these things and was provided the resources needed to facilitate applying to grad school, which would have likely been out of reach otherwise, with my background. I continued nurturing my passion for research during undergrad and somehow managed to get accepted into a graduate program to begin in the Fall, after I completed my Bachelor’s degree.

Fast forward to the present, and I’m completing my 3rd year of graduate studies. Grad school has been a learning experience unlike any other, in my opinion. Remember that it’s important to reflect on your own journey and how it’s shaped you into the person you are. Importantly, take time to be present in the moment. Grad school is filled with highs and lows; try to embrace both for what they teach you and make the most out of each moment.


Amanda Renee Clark (@ARClark16) is a PhD student in chemical biology in the Greater Boston area. This story was published on June 4, 2018, on Amanda’s blog, Mindful Path to PhD (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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