Guide to Graduate School Grief

Hi friends.  I’m glad to be back in this space.  I hope you enjoyed reading Meridith’s life update last week.  While we all have our own struggles, my year has been particularly difficult.  This is your warning that I’m going to talk a lot about death and grief, so if you’re not in the place to read about that, I totally understand if you bail now.  I’ve bailed on a lot over the past 365+ days. But, bailing out means keeping your boat floating, and, with lots of help, I’ve managed to do that too.

“To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.” Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I want to write about this, in the imperfect way I am able, because I know it will help someone else to read it.  Maybe you? We know that graduate school is uniquely difficult on folks’ mental health. I want you to know you’re not alone.  If this isn’t you, but it is someone you know, I suggest you start thinking about the support you can offer. This twitter thread is a great place to start.

I want to want to write about my brother specifically, but I can’t do that yet.  The short version is this. Last summer my older brother, Jake, was in a car accident on the way home from work.  By midnight on the day of the accident I was flying home to Kentucky. After nine days in a coma, my brother died.  

I want to write this to talk about my own experience over the last year as someone grieving as a graduate student.  I want to talk about the things that helped me and the ways that this type of pain gets mixed up in the head of one anxious, highly driven person.  I don’t intend this to be prescriptive. I know everyone’s grief and grieving processes are unique, and you don’t have to be grieving a death to have some of these things resonate with you.  I formatted this as a list of dos and don’ts, but there are no dos and don’ts.  There is no way to do this wrong.

I thought, in the hours we spent planning the funeral, that when this was all over I would want to write everyday. But, as the weeks passed, I felt my grief like cotton stuck in my throat.  I want to write about this because I think it will help me too.

Guide to Graduate School Grief (to be taken as loving insight with the full knowledge that only you know what is best for you)

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Continue reading “Guide to Graduate School Grief”

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Catching Up with STS – Meridith Edition

HELLO FRIENDS! It has been a long, tough year since Rachel and I have posted here on Sweet Tea, Science. We’ve tried to keep up with people via Twitter (Mer’s, Rach’s, and the STS accounts) and Instagram (again we all have one!) but we started feeling that blogging itch once more, so we’re back. We wanted to start with updates on our academic and personal lives, because this blog is about the science journeys of two actual living people. We’ve had some highs and lows. Some heart-breaking tragedies and some magical love-filled unions.

Summer 2017

This time last year I was enjoying the perks of summer in Colorado while exploring the in’s and out’s of working in an industry setting. I’ve had many summer adventures/internships/travels, but any work I’ve done has been 100% within the realm of academia. However, via a connection made through my advisor at the big statistics conference (Joint Statistical Meeting or JSM), I landed an internship at an environmental consulting agency. The further along I get in my studies the more certain I am I’d like to explore career options outside of academia; so this was an amazing opportunity.  

I worked with Neptune & Co., a small but growing environmental consulting company focusing on environmental decision making though quality assurance, data science, and risk assessment. As an intern, I helped the other statisticians working on a project modelling the future (millions of years future!) risks and impacts of nuclear waste storage around the US. I loved being able to learn about an important issue from experts in various fields while applying what I’ve been learning over the past few years in my PhD studies.

We focused on the biotic impact portion of the models and worked to use what precious few data are available to create some distributions for variable such as: plant root shape,root depth, burrow depths, etc. All of these factors can potentially bring up buried contaminants if the burrows or roots venture too deep. It’s important to represent these as distributions (e.g. a Normal distribution LINK) rather than a point estimate (e.g. a mean or median) because it allows for more representation of uncertainty in the model.

Also we did lots of hiking and took adorable photos!IMG_7278.jpg Continue reading “Catching Up with STS – Meridith Edition”

User Guide for Grad Students Worried about the End of the World

Note: I originally published this article in the 4th volume of The Brickyard, the graduate student publication edited and put together by a group of folks in the UC Davis Grad Group in Ecology.  You can find a link to that publication here, and the article below is largely the same.  I’ve made a few minor changes and conjugated the title in a more pleasing way. I hope you like it!

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On the fourth day of the new presidential administration, I got an email from my funding source saying they didn’t know if the money would keep coming.  I knew the attitude toward science would shift with the change in power, but I never expected such concrete impacts to my life within the first week.  When my paycheck did come two weeks later, I knew I had to change my approach.  I wanted to feel I was working to make things better, and if I experienced a near miss, it’s almost certain someone else had taken the hit.  Like any good type A personality, I knew what I really needed was a plan.   

I read a lot of think pieces, I talked to a lot of folks I respect, and, in the end, I developed an approach that felt right for me.  I offer you my own guidelines now, not as prescription, but as an attempt to empower you to make a plan for how you will approach the coming years.  Interrogating my own motivations and priorities was emotionally taxing, time consuming, and frustrating.  Inventorying my special skills required grappling with imposter syndrome for the millionth, and I’m sure not last, time.  I still haven’t gotten over the daunting size of the issues we face, but as Cairns and Crawford once wrote, It is almost too late to start, but tomorrow is even later.”

——— Continue reading “User Guide for Grad Students Worried about the End of the World”