Am I Ready?

My anxiety levels are extremely high. Last month, I wrote about everything I have to do this summer and now, I’m in the thick of it.

I finished up my experiments last Thursday and we finished packing the lab the following day. That’s not to say that my experiments gave me all of the data I was hoping for and some protocols still need polishing, but I set a specific end point so I could transition 100% of my attention to my candidacy exam. My experiments and my cells will still be there, but I really only get one shot at passing candidacy and I don’t want to screw it up.

My advisor is doing her best to make sure I am able to focus my attention on finishing my written proposal, due in 2 weeks, but I’ve needed to go into lab to help set up the new lab space. We’ve got two new postdocs coming in as well, one of which has already started. I’m excited for them to join our lab, but I need to prioritize my candidacy responsibilities.

I submit my written proposal in two weeks and hope to practice my presentation (given as part of the oral exam) later the same week. Practicing your presentation and the questioning thereafter is incredibly valuable because other students in the program have gone through this same experience. These students offer advice and ask questions to quiz your background knowledge on your project’s components. The earlier you start practicing, the more time you have brush up on concepts you didn’t know you’d forgotten (or needed to know).

I’m trying to set intermediate, attainable goals for myself, so that I don’t feel extremely rushed at the end. This is not something I can procrastinate or avoid. But when I try to go to sleep at night, my mind won’t shut up about everything that needs to be completed or hypotheticals about what could happen if I don’t get things done.

I have scheduled activities for myself to do immediately after completing my candidacy exam but they haven’t turned into the “light at the end of the tunnel” I was hoping they would be. Scheduling activities for immediately after means that I can’t bail on my set exam date or postpone anything.

I feel like I felt when I was buying my house. In between having my offer accepted and closing on the house, I signed paperwork, agreed to spend the majority of my life savings, and took on extensive financial risk and responsibility. I wanted to bail so many times because it all felt like too much.

I keep thinking about how much easier life would be if I ditched my PhD program and took a “normal” job among the masses outside academia, but I’m too stubborn for that.

I love my research. I’m here for the research and the people. I just have to get through these next 5 weeks, but that seems so far off.

Once my written proposal is done, I will finish my presentation, then I will compete in our program’s showcase of graduate student research, then I will devote [as close to] 100% of my time to preparing for the actual exam, then I will finally take my exam.

I’m definitely not ready now and I doubt I will feel ready before the exam.

However, I’m ready to stop feeling this way. I’m ready to not have my anxiety interrupt my sleep. I’m ready to go back to being patient with friends and coworkers. I’m ready to go back to feeling like I won’t burst out in tears at any moment. I’m ready to stop feeling like a moron who doesn’t belong because I don’t know everything I should know.

I’m ready to go back to the way things were.