Graduate studies: A decision between adventure and chaos – Part 2

Imagine yourself about to jump from a bungee platform. You will see the abyss below you and the urgent feeling of retreat. In that moment you have to options: chicken out and live with the shame in your comfortable way of living… or you jump and see the experience by yourself. In my very personal perspective I would not make the jump as I don’t see the point of throwing yourself off a cliff just for the “YOLO”.

20161031_131903

Photo by Luis Villegas

But I guess that I had a similar feeling when I was about to enter the manager’s office to explain to him that I was about to quit to go back to graduate school. Metallurgy and Materials Engineering to be precise (more details in the previous post Graduate studies: A decision between adventure and chaos – Part 1). He was a nice boss, but he was also a strong old-shaped man whose perception of academic life was not very positive. “Are you going there on the afternoons?” he asked, and I had to explain that actually, I was presenting my resignation. I could feel the disappointment when he reclined in his chair and threw a quick glance to me, but there was nothing I could do. I received several bad opinions from some friends and other close people about my decision by then, so I was starting to get used to that particular reaction. The notice was official, my replacement was selected and started to train him. I received good wishes from my colleagues and I remember that the very last day when I step outside the factory, I felt like I was ready to take over the world. Unfortunately, things started to get crazy during my first weeks in grad school. First of all, my paycheck reduced dramatically for obvious reasons. Second, for some strange phenomena, all days were Wednesday. That day of the week where you do not know if you should press harder as in Monday or to take it easier as in Friday, feeling in a procrastination limbo that lasted 2 years. Working on Sundays? Of course! There is no better day to put your thesis drafts together. Going out on Monday? Why not! After a while, a Tuesday is not really different from a Saturday.  I lost the perception of time in a very interesting way. The days were longer now. There was no work cellphone to wake me up at 3 a.m. However, now sending emails and writing abstracts at 4 a.m. was perfectly normal. At least I could justify my nocturnal eating habits.

All of this was really hard at the beginning, and I could feel tired, more stressed and a little bit paranoid sometimes. But I was excited like never before, my research took me to different places in my own country, I met amazing people and I discovered a whole new world of information. And then the best came when I realized that it did not have to end there. What if I could go further and get a bigger challenge? There was an old wish in my vault waiting since I was a teenager. And there was a maple leaf on it.

Graduate studies: A decision between adventure and chaos – Part 1

Did you ever want a donut at 3 am? Or maybe some all dressed pizza? Why not a double bacon hamburger? In this case, the answer is easy, you just wait for the next day to grant yourself that wish. In the worst case scenario, you get out of bed and walk/drive to the closest 24 hours fast food restaurant to fulfill your desire. However, what if your desire involves something a lot more complex that you cannot even define? Maybe you will spend the rest of the night trying to understand it without success, but you can surely perceive it. You want to change something, go somewhere or meet someone. How, when and why are questions just out of reach. That was my story. I had these three questions in my mind often during the night. The phone from the company I used to work for would ring exactly at 3:01. I had to wake up quickly, answer, understand the situation in the factory and try to give some indications before falling asleep again.

Image 1 blog
Sometimes I had to get out of bed and drive in the middle of the night in order to fix the situation onsite. But do not misunderstand me, I loved my job. It was the realization of many of my big dreams when I was an undergrad student: a well-paid job in an international company where the everyday challenges teach interesting things. But for some reason, these feelings about doing “something else” assaulted me in the middle of the night, and I could not understand them at all. I started to feel empty, without direction and very discouraged. I really needed to change my life. But why? There was no logical reason behind these thoughts. At the beginning, I believed that maybe the lack of physical activity, the stress at work or even the food at the factory kitchen were making me feel that way. I decided to exercise again, prepare my own food before going to work and other rituals that could improve my situation. These things improved significantly my mood, but I was still thinking that something was not right. Then the first clue came to me. I heard that a local private university was offering Master degrees for engineers from our factory and I was very excited about it. I wanted to learn more, to know something new and some of that could be right there. Unfortunately, the subjects (mainly focused in administration) were totally different from what I expected and I decided to leave that idea alone. But the idea refused to leave and later I found myself talking with the coordinator of the Metallurgy and Materials master program of my previous University. The investigation branches were exciting, as I could see some of my work problems explained from a very different perspective, making it an excellent opportunity to improve my skills and fulfill that hungry for something new.

Unfortunately, when I was about to say yes to begin the applying process, they gave me a single condition: even when I was not receiving scholarship from the Institute, I had to quit my job to be accepted, as they considered that I would not be able to have a good performance if I was fighting on two fronts. I had a lot to process then. On one side there was an excellent and secure job; in the other the opportunity of change completely not only my professional development but my whole life. The master degree did not have to stop there, I could continue with further adventures in science with a Ph.D. and who knows what after that. Even there was the Canadian dream and beyond… but that
belongs to another story. I was between my own past dreams and the present ones. Years before that job represented everything I was fighting for: stability, certainty and material wealth for me and my loved ones. But at some point, I changed without noticing and that dream alone was not
fulfilling anymore. This new horizon seemed so exciting, full of new possibilities and experiences. There was a single problem. Fear. Not only to fail but to fail after having a good work, which I left following something that seemed to be a whim. Fortunately one day I realized something thanks to a good friend. You have the right to decide anything in your life, but make sure that the reasons behind those decisions are good enough. The fear is the worse reason to do or not something. Is good to be afraid sometimes, as the fear keeps us safe from falling from the last floor of a building or enter to a nightclub of doubtful reputation. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to do whatever makes you happy, as long as you accept the problem that comes with that decision, which will be easier to overcome if your drive is strong enough.


I guess you can imagine what I decided considering that I am writing this during my free time from my PhD. But that is only the beginning of an adventure that would take me to more places, situations and problems than I could ever imagine. And in the end, the life is that, an adventure where you should go to sleep only with the desire of having a donut at 3:00 am, but knowing you are doing the best for yourself.

“Where do I go for my PhD?” How to make that important decision.

While many of you blog-followers might already be enrolled in your doctoral studies, some of you may be contemplating a PhD in the near future (and have been reading our posts to evaluate whether it’s a good idea or whether you should totally rethink this option!). Choosing a PhD position is a really big decision; not only would you be dedicating a number of years to yet another degree, but you are also making a series of choices — a program, a university, a city and a supervisor – in one shot. Some of us are careful planners, while others are more impulsive, so it’s fairly certain that we won’t all approach this decision in a similar way. However, I thought I’d share my own thought process and the criteria I carefully considered back when I was deciding which PhD program to join.

I should mention, first, that I am a pretty analytical person, and I do things systematically and methodically. Paradoxically, however, I am also just as impulsive and emotionally-driven as I am analytical! So, you will sometimes find me devising carefully planned pro/con lists and taking 16 days to make a decision, and other times you’ll find me “going with my gut” and arriving at a decision in less than 3.2 seconds. My PhD decision was the fruit of a systematic, rational pro/con list, many conversations with well-informed people, and a few days spent on my own, so that I could honestly listen to the voice inside my head – and, yes, also my gut.

You can create your own pro/con lists or buy a pack of these ones made by Knock Knock.

(more…)

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.