I had really meant to maintain a regular journal last Autumn but to be perfectly candid: my first quarter of graduate school was rough and I felt locked in a constant struggle to keep up with much of anything.
I did begin writing a few times and I’m glad for the record and reflections, but my words never quite gelled into anything that felt coherent enough to share or look back on. What happened was this: the transition was just so much more difficult than I had anticipated. I severely underestimated how adrift I would feel after leaving behind my work, colleagues, and organizing community. I overestimated the fit of my research aspirations with the program (or the first year of it), the usefulness of my health insurance, and my ability to find a balance between the continuation of my prior experiences and the ability to start anew as a first year. I struggled with a new commute, grey days and rain, and physical pain. I felt profoundly isolated, but also unable to find any time to myself.
That’s not to say that it was all bad—in the spaces between self-loathing and a recurrence of existential panic attacks, I developed a deep appreciation and love for my cohort, reveled in opportunities to curate my own reading lists and connect themes between to new-to-me fields of study, and found myself supported personally and intellectually by some very kind humans who happen to be faculty members in my department. I also came to recognize that I had taken for granted several working adaptations and accommodations that had made it possible for me to manage my work/school life, which is good knowledge to have.
In Autumn quarter, my courses were:
- HCDE 541 – Introduction to PhD Studies
- HCDE 543 – Empirical Traditions in Human-Centered Design & Engineering
- HCDE 548A – Concepts in Designing for Coordination
- HCDE 547 – Academic Research Seminar
In my second quarter, through both luck and intention, I’ve been able to establish a better balance for myself (which is not to say that I’m now managing gracefully but…). My core courses are again scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, but begin earlier in the day. I’ve been able to stack other meetings and obligations on those days, which allows me to work from home on Mondays, nearly-every-other-Wednesday, and Fridays. As much as I genuinely adore my lab (I’ll have to post some pictures because we’re really making it cozy), I cannot focus in open-office settings—throughout Autumn, I was frantically trying to stay afloat with reading, writing, and research in evenings and weekends. Working from home gives me a space where I can settle in for long stretches of work and also removes up to two hours of (what was often physically painful) commuting time. And most importantly, I’ve been able to get back to my Friday therapy appointments. Graduate school is a great time to begin therapy and a pretty catastrophic time to abruptly discontinue it.
This quarter, I’m enrolled in:
- HCDE 544 – Theoretical Foundations of Human-Centered Design & Engineering
- HCDE 541 – Research Methods 1 (Experimental/Quantitative)
- HCDE 523 – Design-Use-Build (DUB) Seminar
- HUM 597A – Writing the Planetary: A Microseminar on the Work of Anna Tsing
I’m also rounding out my schedule with a twice weekly evening workout class with a cohort-friend at the IMA. Sometimes, I meet another cohort-friend to sit in the sauna before we walk to home/bus in the rain.