Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Got tips to relieve grad school stress?

C&EN wants to know!

I hate to admit it, but exercise was a good way to relieve a bit of stress for me. Sounds cliched, I know. 

40 comments:

  1. When I was in grad school, I heard that a student had a dispute with his research advisor. To relieve his tension, the student got a case of beakers from the stockroom and threw them, one at a time, against a lab wall.

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  2. Exercise, weed, alcohol, chocolate, television. The usual suspects.

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  3. Whatever you do, dont get angry and take it out on others. Exercise is excellent.

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  4. What worked for me was making starting material. It was a relatively straightforward synthesis that I could perform with very consistent results. There was something Zen about going through the procedure almost as a ritual, knowing exactly what product I would obtain at the end. So at the end I would usually be much more calm about everything, and with the added bonus of the extra starting material.
    Also tequila....

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  5. I second making starting material, I did this as well. When the front end stuff is a disaster and you haven't seen any positive results in weeks, it's nice to know there's always something you can go back to and finally see something worthwhile come out at the end. Plus, you can never have too much starting material. Not just total synthesis, it's true of methodology too.

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    1. as long as it doesn't decompose over time, i agree with this. too many times have my synthesized starting materials gone to shit after a few weeks...

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  6. What would be a huge stress relief is a stable job market after you graduate. My biggest stress was thinking about all the years of grad school left, followed by seemingly endless post doc(s), just to be an assistant professor that could be denied tenure. To get through it just tried to ignore it until it got too much then booze helped me forget. Remember chemists, whiskey is a solution in the scientific and figurative sense.

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  7. One of the most cheerful, genuinely good-hearted friends I had in grad school also happened to work for a truly nasty PI. After five years, I asked him his secret and he replied, "Maintain proper perspective...we have a lot of good things in life." I found the same thing for myself...instead of dwelling on failure, possible worries in the future, and worst-case scenarios, I tried to focus on all of the blessings I had. Admittedly, I had a lot to be grateful for. Instead of looking at a reaction as failed, I tried to treat it as a learning experience. This technique didn't always work, especially around advancement to candidacy and thesis-writing time, but I think it moved my baseline level of stress and pessimism down a few notches. Video games were my back-up outlet.

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  8. Massive doses of alcohol helped me get through long enough to write up a MS thesis.

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  9. Seek out good friends and allow them to lean on you so that you can lean back.

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  10. Good friends and happy hours.

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  11. Like others, exercise, I got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do while getting my PhD. Also, I tried to do a lot of cooking because of the following. Near instant gratification involving a chemical reaction that I KNEW was useful (I was able to eat). Fun to practice my knife skills and cooking techniques. Eating at home keeps the expenses low (less money stress). Finally,it gave me an excuse to invite friends over.

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    1. Also, this comic helped to maintain perspective... http://www.thecomicstrips.com/store/add.php?iid=25402

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    2. a hundred times yes, i agree with this.

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  12. I've noticed that doing some form of martial arts (in my case, Historical European martial arts in the form of longsword) can be a wonderful way of dealing with stress, as it gives you a productive outlet for anger, goals to work towards that have nothing to do with the fickleness of chemistry, and something to look forward to when your stuck running the 100th variation of a reaction.

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  13. Big Buck Hunter: nothing like pumping some (virtual) animals full of (virtual) lead with the labmates

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  14. Something wildly different that hopefully will go well when grad school isn't. I liked triathlons. And beer drinking, but the triathlons are better for you.

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  15. Hobbies and friends outside of your institution (don't just hang out with fellow grad students).

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    1. I regret that I didn't sign up for some clubs and activities to meet some friends outside my department. I agree that other grad students will bring you down; all we ever did was get blind-drunk when we hung out socially.

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    2. I was 10 years older than the other grad students in my department and had nothing in common with them. Their "hanging out" usually involved complaining about anyone who wasn't there, gossiping, and getting blindly drunk. No thanks.

      I don't mind drinking, but the gossip and such just grated on my nerves.

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  16. Replies
    1. Confidence is key to getting laid, and grad students tend to have the confidence beaten out of them.

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    2. Agreed. Unfortunately, confidence is not closely associated with integrity (R2 < .5). Can't explain that one to the fairer sex though.

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    3. Casual, cheap sex with yourself.

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    4. Give yourself a hand.

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    5. More seriously, though, this is a bad idea. These days you just don't know what army of people you're getting into bed with, and what bizarre accumulated baggage is also there. The resulting expectations, tensions and stresses ensure that somebody is going to pay, one way or another. Social media also ensures the prospect of ongoing and everlasting damage if you wind up with a "wrong 'un." In the US there are also potentially gender and racial "social issues" that put males on the wrong side of every transaction and casual sex just expands the scope for runaway politics. See "Fatal Attraction" and "Audition" for a good look at what awaits the unwary.

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    6. *Butthead voice* "Uhhhhhh...got any porno?"

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    7. " Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest), a lack of social or emotional reciprocity (social "games" give-and-take mechanic), and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.

      "People with AS may not be as withdrawn around others, compared to those with other, more debilitating forms of autism; they approach others, even if awkwardly. For example, a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener's feelings or reactions, such as a wish to change the topic of talk or end the interaction."

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    8. Anonymous 8-12-1:43:

      if those are your beliefs they will manifest the reality they describe.

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    9. @8/13 10:08 - And if you only believe then these problems will all go away, I'm sure.

      Seriously, all this does is open the door to other stresses and problems not of your choosing or making. Been there, done that, seen it happen to others.

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  17. Get a dog. Not a yappy one, not a big scary one, but a fuzzy medium sized one. Fellow grad students are usually just as stressed as you are and will bring you down further so avoid most of them. The dog is the only one that won't care about the lab problems and will pick you up. The exercise will come with it since you have to walk it. Attracts women too. The dog helped my roommate and I survive grad school.

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  18. I repaired other grad students' cars. Nothing like working for free, skinned knuckles and blobs of oil in your eye to take your mind off of low yield reactions.

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    1. When Pfizer or Dow or whoever lays you off, you'll have a trade!

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    2. Truth be told, the days of being able to crawl under a car with any modicum of agility are nearing their end... The ol' back seems to creak more and more each passing year.

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  19. I sang in a large university choir, that didn't require auditions. There's nothing like plowing through Verdi or Brahms or Rossini to take your mind off of that day's painfully slow progress in the lab.

    As for my fellow grad students and post docs - quite a number of them drank to forget their troubles. And they would drink until they passed out or vomited. I recall one of them telling me, after I didn't get the lab space I was hoping for, that I should go out and get drunk to wash away the disappointment (and anger). I told him I didn't see the point to doing that, since when I would wake up the next day, I still wouldn't have the lab space I was hoping for.

    One of the professors in my program once heard me say that I hadn't been to the local campus pub 'The Tally Ho'. He very seriously said that in that case, I couldn't graduate. So I went, once.

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  20. My PhD supervisor was, as tradition requires, extremely demanding and had extremely limited patience. Plus, he was a bit of a macho type, so he didn't sympathise with any sings of what he would refer to as weakness. Therefore, you could imagine what kind of a working environment it was. Someone was always 'it'. Someone was always the flavour of the week. Some was always at the very bottom. With the group being rather small, chances were it could be you this time.

    I am going to be completely honest with you guys here and will admit that as much as I thought I was handling the oppression well and trying not to let it get to me, I don't think it is possible for any individual to succeed at it without help. I did it all, hobbies, exercise... I finally snapped, saw red and in a fit of rage I smashed a few graduated cyliders against the wall, which scared the crap out of everyone in the lab. That was rock bottom. I didn't try the alcohol, which, quite frankly, it is scary to see that almost 25% of the commenters above me suggested drowning out your sorrows as a viable option. Perhaps some of you mentioned it in jest, but even so, it is my understanding that what we have here is a major problem at the institutional level. We need support, we need friends... which is hard to maintain when you're forced to work upwards of 70 hours a week.

    How many of us, holders of advanced degrees go along with our lives with undiagnosed mental problems? Is this the price we have to pay to get our PhDs and become scientists? I realise it is a bit late to preach from a position I'm in at the minute, but we are the shoulders the big academics stand upon. We do the science, we come up with things... and we suffer a great deal at the hands of our supervisors. The least we can do is to be good bosses when we are finally in a position of power, be it as a professor, a team leader, or what have you. Do whatever you can not to turn into a bully your old boss was.

    Though we need to start reminding our PIs that they shouldn't take advantage of young people, who in their naivete are ready to bleed for them. Maybe we need to remind those prominent academics (as well as freshmen grad students) that we are human and we deserve to be treated with respect.

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  21. Good question. My most common stress release tactic in grad school was books. Since I have always loved to read I used to lose myself in the library stacks after a long day (or sometimes in the middle of the day) reading books on history and science. That was refreshing. The gym also helped. Another habit that was not as helpful was an addiction to burritos at a local place called Willy's. In fact the burrito addiction was a good warning to me to not to blow off steam by eating delicious but unhealthy food. Interestingly I never drank.

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  22. Exercise. I took up powerlifting in grad school. Never became competitive but it so helps. Also, I now have no trouble moving heavy stuff around. 50 lb bags of kitty litter, chemical drums, furniture, etc....

    I also set aside time to read for fun. It helps when taking a break from reading primary literature or classwork.

    My PhD advisor was all kinds of awesome and let us have much freedom with our schedules and such as long as the work got done. So a typical week for me in grad school involved a couple super long days with 2 hour time points over 48 hours followed by a couple days of intense data analysis and then a few days of down time.

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