why i’m waiting to go back for my PhD

And, why do you care that I’m waiting to back for my PhD? You probably don’t, not really. But I’m writing this not just to remind myself why I made this decision but also to show anyone else making a decision like this some comraderie.

Two first thoughts:

(1) Buy the f**cking cinnamon honey latte. I almost got just a plain latte or no coffee at all this morning from my favorite shop just to save a dollar or two. Life’s two short for that sh*t. Get the cinnamon honey version.

It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

Somerset Maugham

And (2) Grow at your own pace. Imagine if we expected redwood trees to reach their multi-hundred-foot height in just 18 years. And I know, I know – humans don’t live hundreds to thousands of years – I know. But think of it on our scale. Each day is just a day, not your entire life. Take it one day at a time.

The cinnamon honey latte was worth it, by the way.

The latte is, of course, a metaphor. But it really was delicious.

Oh, you want your PhD?

Yes, definitely. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long while now. I have worked my ass off in school settings since high school, graduating salutatorian back then and magna cum laude from undergrad. Before that I was lucky enough to coast and still graduate top of my class from middle school. I think I deserve to take my education all the way, and I want to learn as much as I can about the natural world. Why? Because I’m a part of it. I think that’s something we, as humans, often forget. I barely learned any biology before my junior year of high school and I think that’s incredibly sad. Actually I had a pretty generally poor science and math education up until high school. Not that I don’t love, adore, and respect the humanities and reading and writing (I am, after all, a poet) or think that the sciences are perfect (don’t get me started); I just think there’s value in teaching science and math well from an early age (and no, that does not mean teaching kindergarteners calculus! Don’t get me started on America’s f**cked up education system nowadays either, please).

What do you want it in?

I want to point out that titles of programs are different everywhere and for me it’s more about the project(s) themselves, but in general: ecology and evolution.

I always tell people I want that so I can go be a field biologist and never have to talk to people again, which is of course mostly a joke and definitely not the whole story. I can’t really explain why (remember: your left brain will make up stories to coincide with why you do what you do, impulsively. I’m not even going to try pretending I know my real reasons completely) but I’ve had an obsession with evolutionary theory since I first learned about it. I imagine it helped that my awesome AP bio teacher had a cardboard cutout of Darwin.

It took me a while to be sure what I wanted. I always thought I would get all of my degrees in neuroscience, honestly. And I still love neuroscience, I just hate people (that’s a partial joke). I’d rather work mostly with plants and animals and our world at large. That’s not to say that what I want to do ultimately isn’t work with nervous systems! Because, it is.

I was also thinking of going back for molecular or micro- biology for quite a bit. I love looking at the tiniest things (I have a microscope at home) but I realized that I like thinking about how the tiniest of things scale up to the largest of things. I don’t want to just wade in the waters of tiny things.

So why wait?

Mainly I just feel pretty settled in my life right now and I don’t want to make a change that big. After COVID a lot of my perspectives about what I wanted changed. For example I thought I’d want to move to another state after I graduated; now I can’t see myself going any farther away from family or friends anytime soon. And as for my graduate studies, I thought I had to go back to school at 25 and be finished before 30; now I don’t see any reason to rush it, including for fear of another shutdown. I hated online everything and found it pretty demotivating to be constantly stuck home. Not that I don’t love home – I think I’ve spent 75% of the last two weekends at home binging My Hero Academia. But it’s different when you can safely go outside!

Something else I’ve realized lately is that there are 1,000 ways to reach the same place. There’s not one formula for everything. I listened to other people for too long and thought that if I didn’t do things their way I wouldn’t be smart or savvy enough to get where I wanted to go, but that’s not true. I mean, I’ve made it this far being stubborn and not listening, right!? But seriously: to thine own self be true. Thanks, Shakespeare. It only took having that quote on my wall for seven years to actually understand it.

I told you I like reading and writing and the humanities!

COVID’s also had some other effects on me as I’m sure it has for others. I don’t focus as well lately as I used to, my contamination OCD level is heightened, and I have this lurking feeling that nothing matters (not as in “I hate life and I’m sad” but as in “Let’s just have fun and be happy because there’s not a whole lot that has deeper meaning”). I’m pretty sure that’s not the headspace to go back to school with.

Let’s be honest here, too – I may not make millions now, but I will not be nearly as financially stable while in school for a PhD. I’ll be taking quite the paycut. On top of that school and theses take up lots of time and energy; I have a more engrained routine and better coping skills now than I did during undergrad, but I still want to adopt more before I put myself back through the stress of higher education.

And, to end on a lighter note, there are just some life things I want to do first! Not that I won’t have time after I’m Dr. Valeri, but COVID’s got me wanting to do all kinds of things with the joy and time and safety I have right now, in this minute, in this period of my life. Like I said earlier, I’m feeling pretty settled and I’m not looking to unsettle right now. Instead I’m looking to:

  • compete in an Ironman, potentially
  • take a local herbalist course
  • start a community garden
  • go on a few [major] trips
  • continue enjoying my very rewarding career
  • get my SCUBA cert
  • learn to surf/try surfing for the first time ever
  • longboard more
  • hike more
  • go camping for the first time
  • continue to enjoy crafting and learning new skills
  • continue getting back into playing music

I know I’ll be ready for that PhD program sometime in the next few years. It’s just not today, and that’s alright. I’m happy with my educational/professional life as it is right now.

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