We’re a month into the new year and approaching 6 years since this blog became the MD/PhD To Be that you know and love.
Every now and then over the years, I’ve made posts that are just random updates of my life throughout my training. Nearly every single one started with an apology for not posting in so long. This time I’m going to try not to apologize, but it still may seem like one. But I see it more as a lesson in prioritization and self-care. It’s me being as transparent as I can about this training process. Mental health is an important part of the training process that is not always openly acknowledged.
See, with regards to my career development, this blog is pretty low on my list of priorities. It makes me feel good about myself to help others out, but it’s not really reflected on my CV. While you need to be more than just your CV, it’s hard to rationalize working on something lower on the priority list when there’s higher priority items to get done! I tend to work slowly but thoroughly, especially when it comes to emails and planning, and the past few years in particular I’ve had a number of leadership positions at the local and national level that have required a lot of emails and decision making that I’ve always been slow to get to but have also felt guilty about not doing so. Thus, the guilt has made it quite difficult to rationalize social media and blogging. For the sake of my mental health, I’ve chosen to procrastinate by working on other higher priority items that make me feel less guilty (like, oh, my PhD research) or sometimes just playing with my (now two) cats. 😸
Anyways, a lot of time has passed since my last update (like a year and half!), and I thought I ought to provide a new one. I was thinking about this last night and realized I should just have a string of guilt-free “Life Update” posts that are more frequent and not random ones with silly titles, so that’s what I’m hoping to do going forward.
For more day-to-day updates, please follow me on Instagram at @MDPhDToBe! I’ve been trying to use that a lot more since it’s somewhat a mini-version of a blog and I’m trying to get better at using that medium. I hop on and off Twitter, but use it more for sharing/discussing papers and other resources, so if you’re interested in that, please follow me there also at @MDPhDToBe!
Anyways, for the life updates – there’s some big ones!
First in 2018, I had two of my greatest scientific achievements – my first paper was published and I received my first NIH funding!
This has been a long time coming. I’ve been doing research since 2011 and have been working in labs since 2010. I was close to getting a paper in undergrad, if only the data that my advisor thought would be simple actually were so! Turns out it was a much more complicated synthesis that, unlike the similar molecules that the lab previously synthesized, was particularly unstable. My contribution was basically summed up in a paper as “we tried it but this synthesis didn’t work”. 😭 Then came grad school. I switched labs after 1 year, so that was time working that didn’t contribute to a paper. It then took me 4 years in my current lab to get my first paper from start to finish, but the paper that resulted was only authored by me and my advisor. I’m proud to have finally contributed to the scientific literature!
Similarly, I wrote 3 NIH fellowship applications over the years, but only submitted 2 (if you want to know about the other, check out Why I Switched Labs in Graduate School). The first submitted application wasn’t even discussed by the reviewers meaning it was in the bottom half of the applications. The second got a remarkably good score. I didn’t actually believe it. I told my advisor the score and she ran off screaming in joy down the hallway at lab while I stood dumbfounded, continuing to think I had read it wrong. It took quite a while to sink it, but it did and I was officially received notice of my funding last May.
There’s a lot of delayed gratification in research, so it is important to celebrate your growth along the way. Five years ago, I was just starting to learn how to do animal experiments, which serve the basis of my PhD. Since then, I’ve gotten better at techniques, I presented more at conferences, and I’ve learned more and more. I thought I was hot stuff in the beginning, but now while realizing I’ve learned a lot, I also know how far I have to go. Learning is lifelong after all.
Main take-away: Pay attention to your growth and appreciate it. The little things add up to the big things. Persistence is key.
And now for 2019 – more good to come!
This is going to be a big year. Not only am I planning to defend my PhD this summer, I will also be starting my 2nd year of med school in August! I also have travel planned for some of my favorite scientific meetings and will be beginning my role as the Chair of the American College of Physicians Council of Student Members. Sadly, I will be ending my role as a member of the American Physician Scientists Association leadership. As always, it will be a lot of work, but it will also be worth it and I couldn’t imagine spending my time in any other way.
This year I am going to take the time to express gratitude for my training experience. I am going to make time to read more books that can remind me of how my work connects to a bigger picture. And I am going to make an effort to share what I can of my experience.
I originally became publicly active on social media because I couldn’t find many good resources for those considering the MD/PhD pathway. Now, thanks to the American Physician Scientists Association and #DoubleDocs, there is a large cohort of trainees connected on social media and sharing their experiences. I am proud to have had a hand in helping that happen and I hope you all will enjoy what I have to say.
It is always my goal to share as much of the experience as I can. I have a few more blog posts ideas in mind, but if there’s anything you want me to address specifically, feel free to reach out with the contact form.
Featured image: View from my recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina. You can read about it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bs3f-55gEkS/
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