I have met people that believed talent and/or hard work, attitude, dedication, determination, perseverance etc etc. would decide if you succeed or not. Clearly, they haven’t met a second year PhD student who’s slogging away in her lab in some corner of the world. That student being me.
I did get a little taste of beginner’s luck in my first year of my PhD in organic chemistry. I ran the experiments, learnt everyday, was dedicated in my studies, worked hard. All was well. Second time was always the charm. If a cloning didn’t work for the first time, I repeated it the exact same way as the first time, and it worked. I successfully clones three genes out of six and then hit a wall. I took a break from cloning to focus on other experiments. That was the summer of 2016. I don’t know if it happened gradually, one day at a time or all of a sudden. Nothing worked anymore. Everything I touched broke down and I’m not a careless user of instruments. It was like lady luck has vanished from my side. I broke down a vacuum pump and after a couple months, the mechanic says nothing was wrong with it in the first place. Apparently, I’m hallucinating. Goddamnit, I’m not a schizophrenic. But my trips to the bathroom stall have increased in their frequency where I proceed to weep like somebody died. In graduate school, you’ll find the unnerving sight of grown women weeping in the bathroom. ‘Graduate school is an unhealthy place!’ my senior wisely put it.
Then, came my vacation time when I went back to my country. I came back 4 weeks later in a wheelchair. (Remind me to tell this story later.) And after a two month break, I resumed work late fall semester 2016. It seemed lady luck had not only abandoned me, she fled 100000 miles away from me. All my reagents are in good condition, all my DNA are in good condition. Each of my 6 step procedure worked until in the end, there’s no positive result. I did it again, tweaking this, changing that. I used different genes, different vectors, different media, different cells. It just wouldn’t work. Strategy after strategy went to shit. Three months later, I am still struggling. I have failed for the 50th time. Who’s counting? And I proved the most disastrous decision taken by my supervisor. I just walked into the building with no luck.
My supervisor went onto make a better decision this year. The newbie who joined a month ago, successfully cloned the exact same gene I was trying to clone in November 2016. Beginner’s luck? I don’t know.
All I know is I was left with a huge pile of humiliation and no safe way to look it in the eye. Now, try imagining all that occurred when a person has a major depressive disorder. I bet you can’t. Its excruciating. Its shattering your heart every day into million pieces. Fighting through depression, getting out of bed, and working hard, in return for humiliation, unhappy supervisor, and a disappointment in yourself so profound. Yep, graduate school is not a healthy place. Beware, those who all enter! You might end up soulless and helpless!