Thoughts on the end of grad school

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I have been a student for almost all of my life. For 22 years, almost non-stop. In a couple of weeks, I am going to (hopefully) defend my thesis and then I will (hopefully) be done. Because what more school is there with a Ph.D?*

I’ve had a lot of fun in grad school. Sometimes stressful, but honestly I don’t think any more so than a job would be. There’s a lot of great perks. Super flexible schedule for one–I haven’t gone to work in the rain in months, because I realized that (especially now that I am not doing time-sensitive science) I can just go back to sleep and when I wake up again it will probably not be raining. Or snowing. I’ve also gotten to spend the last 5.5 years working on some super awesome science. I’ve published a paper and am working on another one. I get to tell people things that no one else in the world has ever known before, but because of me they will. I also, just in general, chose a lab that was a very good fit for me and my brain (even though the process of choosing was not). I HAVE MANY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS IF YOU WANT TO DISCUSS.

On Tuesday, I need to submit my thesis. This doesn’t worry me. I started writing in ages ago. I’ve mostly been editing it (because it’s been written) since Thanksgiving. I could give my committee the version I have now and it would be fine, but I can make it better, so I will.

But.


I.

I still need to write the acknowledgements section.

This section should not be difficult.

I just need to thank the people who have helped me in grad school. Thank you to my PI, to my labmates, to my friends, to my family. But I have to thank them in detail. These acknowledgements usually are MORE THAN A PAGE. And everyone has theirs such beautifully written in every thesis I have read (and I’ve read a lot).

Ultimately, this sort of doesn’t matter. Very few people read theses. Even less people read the acknowledgements section of the thesis.

But.

It is a permanent record of everyone who helped me out in grad school and of EMOTIONS that somehow is going on a scientific record that is publicly available and attached to my real name. And that is weird and odd and so I haven’t written it yet.


II.

Also when I graduate I will no longer be a student.

And that will mean I need a job.

I do not have a job.

I have a plan to get a job, but I have not gotten any of the jobs I have applied for yet. (I have admittedly not applied to that many yet). I am limited in geographic space by my husband’s job (we are moving across the country to be back by my family, but he was much better in getting a job first).

The unemployment rate for PhDs is very low.

I am not looking for an academic job.

I will be fine.

I know I am also lucky, because I will be fine financially. I am not the only source of income for myself. I can get on my husband’s health insurance.

But I have never had a job before. I am terrible at interviewing. I have not even gotten the chance to interview for the jobs that I have applied for yet because I did not get any interviews.


Things are ending and things are starting and I will be fine.

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family impact on family

I’m going through and rescuing some old drafts that got lost in the draft box, so hopefully for the next couple weeks I’ll be posting more frequently. Some of the details might be a bit out of date and sometimes the topics are a little bit silly.


So in my earlier-autism-maybe-read-everything-watch-everything-even-slightly-mentioning-it but before my allowed-to-consider-the-possibility-to-myself days, I started watching Parenthood. Also, admittedly, mostly I think I started it because of that thing where when you finish all the episodes of one show on Hulu, it throws you onto another one.

But then it got older and I stopped liking it as much

(mostly because things got sad and stressful
and then so did life
and so I started wanting my tv not to be sad. But to have it be happy thinking.)

And then I’ve rewatched some since.

And what bothers me about it is my oldest-sister-thinking. My oldest-sister, always-responsible thinking. Because I love routines and I love rules, but I also know that the overriding rule has always been, it has to be done. People have to be safe. If my sisters don’t do it, then I have to do it, even if it isn’t fair. (For things that have to be done.)

Because I watch scenes where there are
“THIS ISN’T MY JOB”
and know that I never could have done that because it was my job. It was my job to help. It was always my job to help.

My sisters have screamed that (and I sure I have too, but rarely rarely rarely because as the oldest helping WAS MY JOB) as an older sister HELPING WAS ALWAYS MY JOB.

(And I know I don’t have to like every autistic character ever*, and that I don’t like middle school and teenage boys in general** which probably made it even worse but this made me hate it for a while a long long long while because I would have never screamed THIS ISN’T MY JOB)

And to watch everything be a CATASTROPHIC CHANGE and CATASTROPHIC REARRANGEMENTS


It’s weird how I was considered a big kid at 10 who had responsibilities and had to stick to them, and my youngest sister at 17 is still considered little. My parents commented on how she has a very different life (which is certainly completely true) and my parents weren’t nearly as old and frequently injured as they are when she is the same age. And its true.

But I also spent high school waiting for rides because with two parents and three children, the one who is old enough to wait at school as opposed to having to go to a place for an activity, is the one that waits. Once I was old enough to drive my siblings, I spent (some but not all) late afternoons doing homework outside soccer fields and dance studios.

I wonder what pieces are autism and what pieces are older sister-responsibility-pieces.

Because some pieces are both.

I hear stories about how everyone centers around the autistic kids life. And disruption! Well, in my mind, nothing was a bigger disruption than my sister’s dance classes almost every day and sometimes over an hour away.

Mine were the quiet kind, where we turned into a family that didn’t do birthday parties because I didn’t like them, so my parents never got in the habit of big parties. The differences between my parents telling me to stay out later and the strict curfew my youngest sister has.

We almost never had babysitters because I was usually scared of them.

Of course, I never went to high school parties like the ones on tv. I thought they were mostly plot points to move the story along, like cafeterias. Both of them were things I learned later on were very real. In “peer counseling” sessions which were mandatory school-wide discussions that occurred in section and lead by older students, I heard all about them. And my youngest sister goes to them full of all the alcohol and activities and sometimes lies to my parents to go different places and all the storybook high school things.

Sometimes when I see and read and hear about other people melting down, I think of all the times I wish I could have but I couldn’t because I was responsible and it was NOT ALLOWED. Where you have to wait to wait to wait until you get home because you are driving or IN PUBLIC or I can’t think of any of the top of my head. I can’t think of reasons why I am not more visibly noticeably autistic.

I’m usually in somewhat vague denial of it.

I went to small schools. (Catholic schools–I would have gone anyway.) Uniforms. I could learn the names of 60 other kids when only two or three names changed from year to year. Eventually. I think by third or fourth grade I knew most of them.

Everyone was decent mostly.

I went to plays and dance recitals. I had to go because where else would I have gone? But I also don’t think I ever—well, ever is not true—I very seldom had to go to places that made me uncomfortable. My parents were good about that when they were able to. And they usually were able to. But mostly, we didn’t go to those places. Sometimes there were sister’s soccer parties and such, but those events didn’t really start in loud until I was old enough to stay alone. Benefits of being the oldest. There was a brief period of time maybe where they were starting to get loud but that was also when my youngest sister was born so then we didn’t go to things that babies couldn’t go to also. And then I was old enough to stay home alone.

But I also don’t remember being a small child, or at least not well, so who knows what they worked out then or when. (They do, I’m sure). I suppose I could ask some.

But I was my first parents child so they didn’t know what was normal and not, so they assumed everything I did was normal.

So I got my autistic normal imposed on my siblings, slightly, slightly, slightly.

I wonder what it’s like to have that. Introverted autistic normal imposed on extraverted siblings. Still slightly brainweird, though. Our whole family is. At least my mom’s side. Smatterings of dyslexia gathered in there, with various (sometimes un)diagnosed ADHD and  definitely autistic traits. Brainweird.

(It sounds like a chicken looks.)

And I’ve been thinking so much about family and differences because of getting married and how I will have different family things to join and be part of in a family that hasn’t been shaped and adjusted to fit our pecularities like my cousins and my mom’s side, where there are quiet rooms at Christmas for breaks and no one minds if you disappear for a few hours.

I didn’t realize how weird we were until all the things we went to with boyfriend (now husband). (And sometimes not until after complaining about how their family does X or doesn’t do Y to another friend who tells me her family also does X and doesn’t do Y and who is generally in touch with the scope of things).

Inconclusive.

normal normal normal normal?

Oh hey, maybe it’s like me being a person with specific characteristics and preferences and needs affected my family as much as the other people in my family also being different people with different characteristics and preferences and needs.


*Also because many of them are bad in general. And I don’t really remember much about this show TBH but I do strongly remember this feeling of “I must be helpful”. ALSO THIS IS VERY MUCH NOT A DISCUSSION ABOUT AUTISTIC PORTRAYALS IN TELEVISION. It’s just that this was a starting off point.

**This is a detail that has changed. I am much more comfortable around boys and men in general than I was however many years ago that I wrote this.

Listening to music

I realized that not every post I post here needs to be 100% insightful and 100% perfect, because … this is the internet and I can post what I want. Also I control this site here. I do want to get in the habit of writing more frequently (in general, but also on here) and so I’m going to try and start with some more mundane posts. So here it goes…


Some people really like music. They talk about it and go see live concerts and all that jazz. It is very important to them.

“They are fine with just listening to music as an activity.”

Chemistry, Weike Wang*

I am not one of those people. I mean, I don’t dislike music but I’m pretty neutral to it, especially just LISTENING. I don’t think listening to music is an activity (that I would enjoy). I enjoy singing it or playing instruments because that seems like an activity. I don’t really get the appeal of live music. I actually usually actively dislike it (it’s usually so loud) unless it’s a nice classical concert in a park or something casual like that. On the other hand, this makes me pretty easy company for someone who is really picky about music choice, because I am up for almost anything on a roadtrip.

Except for musicals, because those have STORIES and are easier to sing along to, and I am just generally a musical fan. So when I need to listen to music (to hide the sounds of the neighbor’s upstairs activities or to muffle the sounds of fireworks on the 4th of July), I listen to musicals. Currently (as in the past 2 years), it’s almost exclusively Lin-Manuel Miranda musicals. Luckily for my husband, he also is a big Hamilton fan (although I don’t think he is as big of a fan of In the Heights).

This is legitimately the only reason I have a Spotify account. I got it to listen to Hamilton. I have expanded it to now listen to In the Heights and occasionally Next to Normal and test out the soundtracks for other musicals. Sometimes, but rarely, I will use it to play the Lord of the Rings soundtrack if I have to work on things in lab.


* Grad students (and former grad students)! Read this book. I mean, maybe not if you are struggling with grad school and want to not struggle, but then again, maybe because sometimes it is nice to see your struggles in fiction. But this book is hilarious and also does an excellent job of capturing grad school and the sometimes soul-crushingness of it. It’s one of the more accurate portrayals of late grad school that I’ve seen. Also, then come back and talk to me about it because no one I know has read this book.

Different colored chicken eggs

Ordinary-ness and happiness

I’m going through and rescuing some old drafts that got lost in the draft box, so hopefully for the next couple weeks I’ll be posting more frequently. Some of the details might be a bit out of date and sometimes the topics are a little bit silly.


Quiet happy lives

That’s what I really want to live. I want to find a nice patch of land near my parents (or at least within 50 miles or so) and live a quiet happy life. I want to have kids and dogs and some chickens running around in the yard in a nice coyote-proof coop.

I like traveling, but never alone. I like having a home base and a solid, reliable life to return to. I like following the rules and always having a stable life. I think I would be perfectly happy living a quiet happy life. I will save up my money and put some away into retirement, which I have done starting with my babysitting money (I was a very financially responsible 14 year old who also had no real expenses). I want to spend the time building a solid foundation and structures of my life.
And it is silly for me to think that this isn’t absolutely, positively accepted. It’s presumably the basis that people say they are rebelling from or rejecting when they are rejecting things?
Idk
internet stuff

I guess I come to the same conclusion about this now. Internet stuff. Also, maybe something about what people expect of you in your 20s to be wild and crazy. But I have never been wild and crazy so there’s no real reason to think I’d start just because I’m in my 20s.

Love of Commitment

I’m going through and rescuing some old drafts that got lost in the draft box, so hopefully for the next couple weeks I’ll be posting more frequently. Some of the details might be a bit out of date and some of the writing is not the best, though, although sometimes I will try and update the post.


If there is one thing I love, it is commitment.

I love never-changing constancy, partially because I hate change.

If you look at the schools I have chosen to go to, both times it was the first school to let me in. (There’s only two in there, so it’s not really enough to make a trend, but it’s consistent with a pattern in my life.)

 

I worried about my love of commitment a bit, since I am engaged to the first person I have ever dated. (Although after learned what actually constitutes a date, I think I may have gone on a date with someone else freshmen year of college, but it clearly wasn’t a very good one if I can’t decide.) I had to go through all the yes and no reasons related to it, to make sure it was actually because of him specifically, and not just because I love commitment.


Well, I’ve been married for over 2 years now and I still love commitment. 

Belonging in public spaces

I’m going through and rescuing some old drafts that got lost in the draft box, so hopefully for the next couple weeks I’ll be posting more frequently. Some of the details might be a bit out of date, though, although sometimes I will try and update the post.


I don’t belong in public spaces. They are full of people with their people-rules.

There are parks and lakes and walks nearby where I live. I can’t go outside in them alone. I can’t go in shared space alone.

So I got a dog.

When I have a dog, walking in public is my space too.


This one needs some updating.

Don’t worry, friends. I do go outside alone now. I don’t normally just chill in a park by myself reading or something (although I am fine doing that on the college campus where I work now–random aside: one big bonus of working on a college campus is that during summer I can just go literally nap on the quad maybe by the English department where no one who knows me will see me and (1) people will just think I’m at a meeting or something productive and (2) it’s totally completely normal.) Also I do–and always have done–normal and necessary living things like walking to get places. I just tended to (and still do) feel uncomfortable just sitting around not doing things around strangers.

Also, I have learned the best ways around this is to embrace the early mornings and late nights. Summer mornings at 5am are wonderful. It’s just me and the dog (or sometimes just me) and a sunrise. Fall mornings at 5am are also wonderful. They are just also significantly darker. But when I’m riding my bike back from lab at 5am, even though I’m riding back in the dark and I’ve just been at work for 8 hours when normal people are supposed to be sleeping, I’m just incredibly happy. Everything is dark and empty and QUIET. It’s just me and my bike and the occasional early morning delivery van. 5am is my favorite time in the city.

 

Coordination is a thing?

I’m going through and rescuing some old drafts that got lost in the draft box, so hopefully for the next couple weeks I’ll be posting more frequently. Some of the details might be a bit out of date, though. Also, some of these posts might be a little bit silly and maybe not my best writing.

 

I have horrible proprioception. I used to think it was depth perception, but maybe it is actually proprioception. But I have always been excellent at climbing things. I scared all the other moms when I would climb to the top of everything in Mommy&Me classes and just lie on the poles. I’ve always climbed trees (except now… it is a lot harder to find trees to climb in a city because mostly they are other people’s trees and you are supposed to ask for permission before climbing other people’s trees.). Of course, I didn’t run until after my younger sister learned how to run.

I have excellent fine motor skills. I can inject DNA into a single-celled embryo and dissect very tiny glands from larvae. This requires really intense hand-eye coordination because the forces and tissues are so small and delicate, you don’t get any sensory feedback so you have to learn to judge your movements by the microscope and without any touch response. When I rotated in a neuro lab, the first chick brain I dissected was perfectly dissected (even though they had set aside many brains for me to learn how to mangle the first few). I also do some other very complicated and rare embryo manipulations that would definitely be identifying because VERY FEW labs do it and I am pretty darn good at it, and I picked it up super quickly.

But I also fell down the stairs daily at high school, walked into the counter daily at home, walked into walls regularly. But maybe that was because I insisted on wearing shows two sizes too large in high school because I hated shoes that touched my toes. I haven’t fallen down stairs in years. I also tend to struggle A LOT with doors, specifically with opening them but also with walking through them instead of into them.