We're a little crazy, about science!

On failure

Maybe it’s the hangover from yesterday’s news about my fellowship, but I feel like I got backed over repeatedly by a truck. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the future, or all the work I still need to get done for tomorrow, maybe it’s a lot of things. Somedays I wish I could just pause, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to stop and don’t really know what I would do with myself if I did. Actually I do know, since I can recall at least one time in my life where I hit the pause button and it didn’t end well.

Another chance of a lifetime just slipped away and that’s the third time this month (no, really). You never hear how hard finding funding is during your PhD. Maybe it’s me, or the field I’m in, or even more locally, the lab I’m in. I’m not the only person for sure who has had trouble, but you don’t see a lot of people talking about it. At least I don’t, more often than not it’s more about the workload, which truthfully is outrageous. I’m not sure how I have time for sleep some days. I’m an anxious person by nature and the road to my PhD hasn’t made living with that anxiety (depression, PTSD, insomnia, etc) easy.

It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, what matters is how many times you get back up. It’s the big motivational slogan right? No one is going to hit as hard as life does, but you need to get up and keep pushing forward. I am sure we’ve all heard that before and there is some truth to it, if you do the work to get where you want to be then you’ll make it eventually, right? I think that comes from a place of privilege, not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes getting knocked off the tightrope of life just once is enough to end any hope of continuing. Some of us are lucky to have a safety net. Family, friends, finances, things that are luck of your birth circumstances and has nothing to do with you as a person.

Really I think what I’m trying to say with all of this is that I’m tired of things being so difficult. I can see why a lot of people drop out of a PhD program, there isn’t a lot of built in support for them. Okay there is no support, the support is zero, let’s be clear it’s non-existent. So if you don’t have any other form of support then you’re basically on your own and through shear force of will, determination, and a lot of luck, you either make it your you don’t.

Since the rejection from NDSEG (this post), I found out that the number of awards given out by NDSEG range from  ~150-200, but almost 8,000 (if we’re being exact, 7942) people applied this year. The odds of being selected were extremely small and the odds of being noticed when you’re me (IE not the perfect undergrad), was probably closer to zero. It’s frustrating, but the worst part is not knowing why. I mean it doesn’t make a difference really, but if I knew it was my undergrad haunting me, at least I have a reason to be angry. Maybe it was something stupid like my application just didn’t excite them, or maybe they think it can’t be done. I’m not sure and that’s probably why I’m so anxious today.

It will pass, it always does and I’ll be back to work trying to be better than everyone seems to think I am. The thing about living is there’s a good chance you’ll be average, I mean from a statistics standpoint you will be average, that’s just how it goes. In academia average isn’t celebrated, so I need to be better than average and that is easier said than done when the people who are above average seem so far out of my league that I don’t see how it would ever be possible to reach that point.

It’s a struggle for sure and while I feel like I’m just whining, which let’s be real I kind of am, it’s also good to let others know things like this happen. Feeling like you’re the only one failing is probably the worst feeling in the world. So I decided when I started this journey that I was going to loudly share my failures so others wouldn’t feel alone. I’ve made a career of failure and it doesn’t look like I’m going to be stopping that anytime soon.

The point is just this, failure is part of the process of growth. It happens to everyone, some more than others. While we don’t all have a built-in support system (it’s just me folks), sharing your failure gives support to others who have gone through the same thing. I don’t know that I will ever be proud of failing, because I am not, but I know that I’m not alone and sometimes that’s the best you can get. ~200 out of ~8,000 got selected for NDSEG and I wasn’t one of them, but neither was most of the people who applied. I’m not alone and if you’ve found failure, know that you’re not alone either.


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