Advice for new PhD students

Do not contract glandular fever in your first year. It’ll put a real damper on your studies.

I never really got any better after those few illnesses I complained about earlier this year. I was really sick about every second week, and when I wasn’t actively bedridden, I had only just enough energy to push myself through the daily grind. Extra things like seeing my friends or writing on this blog and other hobbies just had to drop.

Even after finishing a demanding Bachelor’s degree and a hectic Honours year, I can say that I have never felt that exhausted in my life. I saw a doctor several times. When things still weren’t getting better after I “recovered” from one of my endless colds, I had some blood tests done. Everything came back negative. I cried at the doctor in frustration. I felt horrible, and I didn’t know why.

With this persistent exhaustion and illness came crippling self-doubt. Maybe there is really nothing wrong with me, maybe I’m just not cut out to do a PhD. All my co-workers are putting in more hours than me, working harder than me, and they’re not as tired as I am. Maybe I made the wrong choice. Maybe I should quit.

I finally took two solid weeks off on advice from that doctor who still didn’t know what was wrong with me but probably thought some rest wouldn’t hurt. Asking for that time off, I cried at my supervisor. Thankfully, he was extremely kind and understanding — the second week was actually his idea, I originally only asked for one.

When I returned from my time off, I saw a different doctor to fill a prescription, and although I felt much better at the time, I filled her in on the situation. She thought to test for glandular fever. I just received the results today, and the diagnosis is that I have had it. Although it has been obvious to me that I’m now better, given my higher energy levels and lack of very recent illness, somehow I feel better for having that diagnosis. I guess I feel validated for all that time I had to take off to be a pathetic lump in bed or on the couch. It wasn’t just in my head.

I definitely feel like things are going to pick up from here. My research is doing very well; I think I am getting useful results almost every day now. That sort of thing is possible when you crack the synthesis of a material — I’m now in the process of testing it for all the different sorts of things it can do. Hopefully my personal life will also lift back up again and I can get back to regular posting. I am certainly going to try.

If you wish to talk, you can find me in the comments, via e-mail at chemistryintersection@gmail.com or on Twitter as @Lady_Beaker.

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