Thursday, July 24, 2014

How To Be A Professional Graduate Student

Be An Organ/Data Donor

Within four days of starting class I was using my own test data to complete lab reports.  I texted my former coach Phil, who has an M.D. in sports medicine and a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, that I had to complete a Wingate test and that I thought that I was done with this sh!t since he didn't coach me anymore.  His response:

"Welcome to your new career, where you are athlete/subject/researcher."

I should have known that I would become a subject in my desk-mate's Ph.D. research on respiratory fatigue and diaphragmatic pressures.

I was like this for an almost an hour. The tubes go up your nose and down the back of your throat to your esophagus and stomach respectively.  Balloons on the end are inflated to measure changes in pressure as you do different things, like sniff or seal your lips and exhale against the seal (valsalva maneuver).

It doesn't hurt, but man, do your eyes water when the tube first makes the turn out of the sinuses and into the throat.  I had a sneezing fit when together they tickled the back of my throat. Have you ever sneezed 9 times in a row with tubes in each nostril? Until last week, yeah me neither.  It's....a complicated maneuver.

This morning found me walking around my department in a 2-piece suit so I could weigh myself underwater.

It's an easy way to determine body volume, and thus body density and composition.  The other body composition calculation methods, which we also conduct, involve pinching skin folds, measuring a variety of girths, and telling the entire class our weight so everyone can calculate our BMI.  Generally, all of the things you are never supposed to ask women to disclose.  Anyone with body image issues would be crying in the corner; this experience is not for the faint of heart.

Although if you were feeling faint in the heart, they would probably want to collect some data.

Open Your Mind

Only after I started class in June did I realize how little learning daily life normally involves.  People who know me know that I frequently say "and that is the thing I will learn today," kind of my personal acknowledgement that "you learn something new every day."  But school at this level involves learning far more than one thing per day - and you have to remember them all for, ideally, ever.

Only once I returned to a situation where I am required to learn 50 pages of textbook information every second day did I realize how our brains change to operate in a daily life where so little learning is involved.  It just isn't, for lack of an even more useless and less helpful description to offer.  The ability to sit in a room and be fed an endless stream of new information and hear it and retain it and learn it is not a skill we maintain after our education ends.

My current class is like drinking out of fire hose: a semester's worth of lecture, lab and memorization concentrated into six weeks.  One day, thankfully early on, something just flipped and I became a sponge to new things.

Ditch The Uniform

There is a uniform among female students on this campus: Nike running shorts, Nike Free running shoes, and a school-specific t-shirt.  The male students are totally all over the map, but aside from specific exceptions (camo sweatpants with boat shoes! shined wingtips and pressed dressed pants!), generally trend towards something similar to the women: workout clothes that border on pajamas.  The uniform is no more evident than in a daily 8 am class during the summer.  

A guy who sits next me in lecture said "Kelzie, you need to come down to my level."  I told him that I had lived on his level every day for four years.  I wore "DHA" sweats like the guy in this picture is wearing pretty much constantly unless I was at practice or in the theater catwalks.

That was followed by five years of this.  *Awww*  Baby Kelzie's first day on The Hill.

That was followed by five years of this.

I am an adult, or at least I play one on TV.  Grad school is a job, albeit one I pay to go to everyday.  I've done many levels and worn many uniforms, extremely formal to extremely informal.  Now I don't want to wear a uniform.  A few days later I showed up to class in these.  

Nike does not sell them.

Live Your Own Lifestyle

In my memory my undergraduate years seem laid out like a path to follow, and contained so many "this is the way you are supposed to behave as an undergrad" or "these are things you are supposed to do as a undergrad."  Check this box, check that box, learn this lesson.  For all the different available clubs and majors and opportunities, everyone was moving in the same direction and everyone's daily grind was so similar.  At Harvard, everyone even lives together; there is no real off-campus housing option.

As a senior I took a seminar with a G10 (Harvard-speak for the fact that he was in his 10th year of grad school) who was married with two kids, 5 and 7.  At the time I couldn't really imagine that life because I was one of a million salmon all swimming in the same direction in the same river.  He was in an entirely different body of water.

I am now much closer to the age this G10 was, and I can't imagine being one of those salmon.  I've figured out what's important to me and what's not, what my best daily grind looks like, and how little I like to drink.  So have all (most) of my grad student peers.  We are all swimming in different directions in different bodies of water, and maybe for short periods of time each day, we kind of swim in the same direction together, but the time for living the same lifestyle as everyone else is over.

Thank goodness.

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