True Life: I’m In Grad School

It has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. Reason being, I’m rather busy these days. I do not know if this post in particular will have any sort of “wow” factor or really be that interesting. Long day, just trying to write to relieve stress.

So, this grad school thing. Well, I should probably preface this post by saying I’m enjoying myself and that Texas A&M is meeting expectations.  Anyway, back to grad school. If I had to describe it to someone…

Constant Work

Back in my student athlete days I was always busy but I was not always working. During my undergad years I was given plenty to do but most of it was just a waste of time or required little mental energy on my part. So while there may have been stuff to turn in or a test to study for the general mental cost was low. I was able to take back-to-back semesters of 20 credit hour semesters and rack up A’s. This while training and competing. I’m a smart guy but let’s be real. Shit just wasn’t that hard.

Let’s fast-forward to graduate school.  I have half as many classes as I did in undergrad and only half of these current classes require me to put in effort. Turns out, that’s about all I can really deal with right now. Not only do I have class but I have laboratory responsibility as well.

[RANT] Being a GA is not the easiest thing. I know some people are of the opinion that because I’m doing “cool” things that I’m interested in that somehow I’m not really working like the rest of the 9-5 people. Ya… if you think that you can go fuck yourself. I’m not trying to be an asshole about it but it really does piss me off when I hear someone disregard what I do every day. I work with very expensive equipment and if I make mistakes I can not only cost this department a lot of money but also hurt the reputation of the research done by collecting crap data. Plus, I’m not just pushing buttons, I then have to interpret that data and understand the physiological significance. Don’t get me started on the statistics that accompany the data collection. [/RANT]

Where was I? Right. As I mentioned, class ain’t easy. I just took a test last week and if I didn’t know all of the material it would have been impossible to do well on the test. Not complaining about that. I expect to be tested. It’s just that the time commitment necessary to obtain the level of understanding is high. During the day I’m running exercise tests, being trained, completing assignments for my advisor, going to class, and trying to fit in a workout schedule. Then you study. Then you can relax. Then you can eat. (ya, I prioritize exercise over relaxation) Did I mention making sure I don’t dive headfirst into my studies so as to give my fiancé the time she deserves (yes, that seems like a no brainer but if you know me you know my obsessive personality).

Grad school is one thing after another. Work never ends. If I’ve got free time I should probably be studying for a test or reading a research article or practicing how to run tests or… you get the picture. Never before have I been challenged and stimulated like this. Despite what the above words may imply I’m not really that stressed out. I was made to work hard. I just feel it important (for my own mental health) to acknowledge that I will be working hard for a very long time. This is not a sprint. Thankfully I haven’t said yes to every single opportunity thrown my way or I would be overwhelmed. On the same token, I always carry caffeine pills with me because sometimes I don’t have the motivation to dig in and grind out an assignment.

Each day I try to find the balance. By focusing on my goals and having a vision of the future I know I will be successful. It is not easy. I feel no reason to lie about that. For anyone who reads this that wants to be a grad student understand that undergrad was the warm-up. If you are not willing to work, do not apply. But, if you have the passion. If you have the desire to learn more, go for it. I promise you won’t be disappointed if you end up in a good program.

College Station, Day 2

This is the day I spent with graduate students. I was supposed to meet up with two professors for breakfast but due to a mix up I just went to campus. I decided to take a taxi this time. Didn’t really have a choice because of a drizzle. I was loosely scheduled to spend time with three grad students. Two who work in the applied physiology lab I was considering and then a first year masters student. These three students could not have been more different.

This first grad student is doing a project using the AlterG treadmill. I had no idea what this was but it sounded interesting. Essentially, it’s a treadmill that allows you to run at a percentage of your body weight by placing you in a bubble that makes you more buoyant. The bubble can blow up enough to make you run at 0% of your body weight. This little piece of equipment cost $75,000.00 and I got to run on it. I felt like a feather running at fifteen miles an hour. This treadmill was one of many expensive pieces of equipment in this lab which was three stories. Not everything in the building was for the kinesiology department but an entire floor isn’t bad. This grad student, we’ll call him GS1 was a pretty cool guy. He went to undergrad in Texas but isn’t a die hard Aggie. I don’t know if it was on purpose but GS1 dropped some very interesting details about the city and the campus. There is a fair bit of politicking within the department. College Station is a conservative area. Probably the most interesting thing I learned from him was the adjustment to a purely academic life. He was a runner in undergrad and talked about how hard it was to adjust to a normal life. He didn’t like his first semester. Until he found a group of friends being an Aggie really wasn’t that great. He even took me out to lunch and offered to take me out later that evening to see the night life. Just a quick note on that. People in College Station can’t dance and have terrible music tastes.

Onto GS2. She is a first year master’s student from Michigan. If anyone was going to give me an unbiased view of tamu it was her. She was very nice. She took me around campus and just talked and talked. There are lots of little customs the aggies follow that she (and I) found rather silly. She talked about the classes and some of the difficulty she was having. Her experience with applying, why she decided College Station was the right for her. She was a glimpse of what I might be like in my first semester of coming in. She knew no one in Texas. Her family didn’t even want her to come. She didn’t lie; it hasn’t been an easy transition. She joined a few clubs make friends but making a support network takes time. GS2 was a gracious host and I’m glad I had a chance to meet with her.

Now, GS3 is the guy I really wanted to meet. He was the anomaly. I met him in June and he did not look like the guy who would be getting a PhD. He’s got a big muscular frame like a football player (which he was), he plays in a metal band, and just didn’t look the part. When I met to meet up with him he was in workout clothes. At the same time, when I talked to him this guy knew his stuff. He has a very ambitious dissertation project. He was on good terms with the entire faculty and many of the head guys in athletics. He came in getting his masters in sport physiology and decided he had too many questions so he went for the PhD route. I’ve carefully planned out grad school but this guy flew at the seat of his pants and tamu had the faculty and facilities to let him grow. He’s got his hands in many labs and was very straight up with what I could achieve if I went there. The funding is here. The labs are here. The professors are here. If I had a very specific research focus then I should consider somewhere else but if I’m not locked into one particular thing then being an Aggie could be very beneficial.  Probably the best part about shadowing this guy was walking into the muscle physiology lab. I’ll never forget this “Ya, this is just standard lab, nothing special. Got the -80 degree freezer, an HPLC, a centrifuge, and a few other stuff”. I couldn’t even recognize the equipment in this lab. I wanted to pull out my phone and snap a few photos but I didn’t want to look too impressed.

I got three very different perspectives on the university. Taking in what the faculty had to say, and what the students had to say, it’s getting pretty clear. I could do big things here. By Monday my application will be complete. Knock on wood but if I get a call or a letter saying I got in the decision now would be to say yes.  But that’s nothing I haven’t said before. So, what haven’t I said? For a bunch of little reasons I didn’t want to get into, Texas A&M isn’t perfect. It’s in a conservative part of the country, it’s a very “rarhrah” school and I don’t know if that fits my personality too much. The program is large which means lots of opportunities but it’s on me carve out my place. And, though it may not seem like a big deal to me, I don’t know anyone in this part of the country. I’d be completely alone. This is an exciting time, but I also need to tread carefully.  I’m confident that I’ll be enrolled somewhere next fall, I just want to make sure it’s the right place for me.

College Station, Day 1

I am in College Station, Texas right now visiting Texas A&M University. This is technically day two of my visit but I crashed pretty hard the first day so I didn’t get a chance to write up my experience. Tamu is my number one pick for graduate school. I’m interested in their exercise physiology program. Because of the future I’ve envisioned for myself I’ve decided to apply for the PhD program outright. It’s ambitious but not unheard of. I’ve got great support from friends and faculty and I feel like it’s something I can do. So, with that little write up about over, let’s get into it.

Just getting to the airport was a debacle. I don’t really want to get into it. Involves leaving a wallet two hours away from the airport.

I arrived in College Station ~11:30. I made it to my hotel about an hour later due to a mix up with a cab. I’m 2.5ish miles away from campus. I wanted to save money so I decided to walk there for my meeting at 2:00 with a professor. Not gonna say it was a completely terrible idea. Just know that it is hot in Texas.

The department of health and kinesiology is actually inside of their football stadium. It’s a little hard to describe the setup actually. It was really nice though because the department is near the vast majority of the athletic facilities. I made it on time to see the professor. I met him this past June at a conference and he really impressed me. We talked for a bit and then he gave me a tour of the surrounding area. He works in an applied physiology lab so I got to see that, met some of his grad students (more on that on day 2). Then he took me through the athletic facilities. The weight room (the one of three I saw) is massive. MASSIVE. The hydraulically banked indoor track was pretty sick. Football stadium fits 90,000. Tennis courts, baseball field. Huge athletic training rooms. It’s very evident that Tamu cares about its athletes. The professor was on good terms with the coaches and strength and conditioning staff. Just walking around the facilities I was introduced to over fifteen people. Sadly, I did not get a chance to see the track team practice.

At this point, I was happy. I didn’t have much of a plan coming in. I was just gonna meet with the professor and go from there. He went out of his way to set up time for me to hang out with his grad students. When I write up day 2 I’ll get into that.

So, we swung by the Health offices where I was to meet the graduate coordinator. I hadn’t been able to get in contact with her for three weeks. She was going to set up an itinerary for me but that didn’t happen. I must say, she could possibly be, the nicest person I have ever met. Within 30 seconds I felt comfortable in the office. Very easy to talk to, great sense of humor.  She asked me my background and how far I’d gone in the application process. The website made the process seem very… strict. Well, she  said  “You know, don’t worry all that paperwork, just email me your materials directly and I’ll take care of you.” She took me through all the funding opportunities and basically drew a map of everything I should see on campus. She took the time to drive me around campus and point out landmarks and talk about traditions that Tamu has. What else… oh, she contacted some 1st year masters students for me to meet so I can get an unbiased view of the place. The coordinator also gave me her cell number and said call if I needed anything. If I got bored and didn’t have anything to do just call her and she’d help me out.

I make it back to the hotel a little after five and I’m reeling. In three hours my mind has been blown. The hospitality is unreal here. I was made to feel right at home. That first day, I met over thirty people easy. Every single one just friendly as can be. This trip was a little spontaneous. I don’t know anyone in Texas and I had no plan. All of those worries washed away.

There’s a lot more I can get into about that 1st day. I didn’t mention much about that campus/student body but I can do that later. Since it’s on my mind I want to write about the possibility of coming here.

If I get in, I’m coming. That’s kind of how it works with a number one pick. What is so odd to me is the way the faculty speaks to me. What I mean by that is, they talk as if I’m going to get accepted. They are using phrases like “If you decided to come here” or “If this feels like your kinda place then…” so I’m beginning to think it’s not a question of getting accepted so much as do I want to go here. The department is very big. Ten physiologists alone. I’d find a mentor to accept me I’m sure. The decision is in my hands here. Is this the place for me? Well, after day 1, it sure does feel like it. There is plenty of funding here. There are so many avenues I could take with my research. If I had a very specific focus then a different university might be for me but I could probably do just about anything if I came to College Station. Some events on day 2 influenced my thoughts even more but I’ll save those for tomorrow.