Discovering and Nurturing Your Passion in Grad School

When I entered grad school, I had a clear vision of who I was going to be. I was going to learn as much as I could. I was going to do great research and answer scientific questions. I loved science, I loved being at the bench and I was determined to be as amazing as I could possibly be. However, coming from a smaller school, as well as going through my undergraduate career as a single mom, outreach and support work became incredibly important to me because I would not have been able to make it through without a support system. When I entered grad school at the University of Michigan, I focused on my work for my first year or so however it became apparent to me that the support I had as an undergraduate was lacking. So I took it upon myself to initiate these programs. As well as diversity in STEM outreach work focused on supporting graduate students, I also focused on outreach to the local community. Soon, I found that I was happier working on STEM education and outreach than when I was working at the bench.

This revelation led to a series of nervous breakdown inducing questions. Did I make the wrong choice in coming to grad school? Did I make the wrong choice in joining a Neuroscience Program or should I have pursued a doctorate in something else, like science education? Why did I come to grad school? Should I quit?! What do I do if I do quit?! Will my kids and I end up on the streets?! Will people take me seriously as a scientist when I look for jobs after I graduate if my CV is mostly outreach work? Will I be able to feed my kids if I follow my passion??

Yeah, I'm an overthinker. But these were all very real to me. As my passion for outreach and science education grew, my enthusiasm for my dissertation project lessened. It got to the point where the prospect of coming into lab was incredibly depressing. I didn't understand it. I love science! Why do I feel such dread?!

I ended up consulting friends and family. As I voiced everything that had been running through my mind, I suddenly realized I knew the answers to my issues. I was looking at the completion of my Ph.D. as a roadblock keeping me from doing what I really loved when in reality it is a stepping stone and the foundation for getting to where I want to go. I discovered how important my passion was to me while in grad school. Isn't that what grad school is for? Sure, you are being molded into a good scientist however, you are also growing into the person you want to be in this world. 

Once I realized that one thing, my sense of dread was gone. Now I was eager to finish my Ph.D. so I could focus on making a difference in STEM by helping increase diversity. Sure there are plenty of days where I'd rather be doing something else (like writing and promoting Science in Color but finishing my Ph.D. is important to me and to my future so I suppose I'll stick around.