Work, Optional?!

The Daily Prompt:

Work? Optional! If money were out of the equation, would you still work? If yes, why, and how much? If not, what would you do with your free time?

I find it amusing that this prompt pops up now. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist on Monday. It wasn’t pretty. Tears streamed down my face during the whole appointment as I desperately tried not to sob. He recommended that I see a psychologist for regular therapy and take some time off work/school to figure out if doing a Ph.D. is the right thing for me. I haven’t told my supervisor yet, nor have I decided whether or not to take psych’s advice about taking time off….but this is what started my thought processes. Money is already not part of the equation. I finally got a fellowship this year, but it doesn’t pay much. I guess I’m hoping I’ll make money some day in the future. If I could spend my days doing anything without any consequences, would I still be doing this?

After much thought and more tears, I think the answer is yes. I would still like to be doing vision research…..but not like this. In an ideal world (aka, not this one), I’d have a flexible schedule and do research part time so I could focus on my doodles, blog and writing the rest of the time. I’d love to have time to learn to paint, develop my writing skills and maybe write a children’s book or something. That would be my answer to today’s prompt but, I’m only dreaming.

Back to reality. I want to continue in vision research because I enjoy learning about the topic and helping the older population I work with. The thing I like about research is the learning, the challenge and the information. I love collecting information, breaking it down into the basics in order to understand it and then building up the story from there. This makes me think doing a Ph.D. is the right thing for me. I want to be a student though and at the moment, I think I might be juggling more responsibility than a student is supposed to have. I’m not sure though, I may have a skewed perspective because I have nothing to compare to.

I run the lab. I organize the people and the paperwork and I mentor the students and volunteers. I am involved in everything from study planning and grant applications to recruitment, testing, data analysis and reporting results. Right now, we have 6 studies running. I have spent the last year trying to get them all through ethics and am now finally collecting data. This does not include my dissertation by the way, that makes 7 studies. There is also an ongoing research-clinician program that I had to take over and the results of an 8th study that have to be published. I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in such a variety of projects. It will only look good on me when the research starts moving and I get to populate my CV.

Is this the way it usually goes? Or am I only supposed to be worrying about my dissertation? I am overwhelmed, but I’m not sure if my workload is normal for a Ph.D. candidate or not. What do you think? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

tree with roots

Self-esteem Challenge: Day 26

This blog challenge was developed by If you missed the introduction or want to see a summary of all the questions, go here.

Day 26:
What is your favorite compliment to give and receive, and why?
When’s the last time you were too hard on yourself? What do you think you could have done to treat and comfort yourself instead?

I think my favourite compliment to give and receive is something along the lines of “good work”. Doing a good job is important to me and something I always try to accomplish in anything that I do. So hearing “good work” means I have been successful. If I’m telling someone else “good work” it means they have accomplished the same thing and hopefully my acknowledging that makes them feel good.

It definitely wasn’t the last time I was hard on myself, but it is the time that sticks out most in my mind. My Master’s degree. I should have celebrated it. I should have let myself feel the accomplishment. I regret sweeping that under the rug, especially now as I watch my sister-in-law finish her Master’s degree. She’s on cloud nine lapping up all the praise. All I felt when I got my M.Sc. was guilt. I didn’t deserve it. Nevermind the paper I published from my thesis, the four experts that applauded my defense or the database that is used internationally! I ignored it all and came to the conclusion that I didn’t deserve it. What is wrong with me?!

so much to learn

Missing: Sense of Accomplishment

I want to be proud of the things I do well. I should be proud of my accomplishments. We all should, big and small. I have this bad habit discounting the positives. I dwell on the negatives and sweep my accomplishments under the rug, like they don’t count. I always regret it later, much later. Like my M.Sc. for instance. I graduated in 2010. My parents had to drag me to my graduation, I didn’t treat myself at all and I refused to let anyone throw me a party. Isn’t part of being happy savouring the good moments and being proud of yourself? Shouldn’t I at least be celebrating the positives as much as I beat myself up over the mistakes? I regret not celebrating my Master’s degree now. Looking back, it was a big mile stone, but at the time, I felt like I didn’t deserve the celebration.

Last week, I found out that I was awarded a research fellowship from the Quebec government. I was thinking I’m going to do better this time. I got an award, I’m going to be proud of myself and celebrate the accomplishment. At first, I felt relieved. Getting this fellowship meant getting a salary. Things have been difficult financially over the last year while I’ve been in school without an income. This fellowship will give us some breathing room. I thought maybe after the financial stress had lifted a bit, I’d feel proud of myself. I’ve been going through the motions, doing the things you are supposed to do when something good happens. I told all the important people in my life instead of waiting for them to drag it out of me. I’ve posted my good news on my blog and on Twitter. I’ve accepted congratulations from many people and flowers from my supervisor. My husband and I got a giant cupcake over the weekend to celebrate. I feel empty though. I’m missing that sense of accomplishment. I don’t understand why. I’m wondering if my sense of accomplishment is being overshadowed by negative emotions….like stress, anger and frustration.

I think an achievement causes me stress because it raises the bar. When expectations become too high, dissatisfaction sets in. There is more room for failure. It’s probably part of my perfectionist attitude too, nothing is ever good enough. Now that I have a fellowship, it is expected that my research will go forward without a hitch, that I will find something of note and obtain my Ph.D. What if that’s not what happens? What if all I do is prove my hypothesis wrong?

Also, I am angry and frustrated at myself for not getting this fellowship sooner. Since I’ve got it now, I know that I’m capable, why didn’t I work harder to get it sooner. I applied in 2012 and 2013 and did not get the award. This year was my last year to be eligible. If I had gotten it sooner, I would have been funded for longer.

So instead of feeling pride, I’m stressed and mad at myself. Does this make any sense? Does anyone else ever feel this way?

I thought for sure by telling people and taking the time to celebrate would make me feel good about it, but….nothing. It’s like I’m waiting for something in order to be happy, seeking approval or something. Reading this over, it’s starting to sound familiar. Isn’t seeking external approval for relief of that empty feeling a characteristic of low self-esteem?  Like self-esteem, I think pride or feeling accomplished has to come from within. Acknowledgment from others can reinforce the emotion, but if that feeling is not created by you in the first place, the acknowledgement seems empty. It’s looking like my low self-esteem is the root of a lot of my mental health problems.

Starting now, I’m going to make working on my self-esteem a priority.


Good Things Come in Threes

I know a lot of people who believe that bad things happen in threes. Whenever something goes wrong they are on the lookout for the next two. I try not to think this way, who wants to be waiting for bad things to happen? Today, I am wondering if the superstition works the other way too. Can good things come in threes? I have three bits of good news to share.

The first being my Dad. The doctors found that the left side of his heart wasn’t contracting all the way. This is scary, he is 60 now and bad hearts have claimed all the men in his family in their early 60s. He had an angiogram on Thursday and it came back clear! His arteries are wide open! We still don’t know why his heart is off, but I am choosing to focus on the positives here. The angiogram has ruled out several bad prognoses. I’m thankful for that.

The second thing is my husband’s job. He is a high school teacher and we were told there weren’t enough students for him to have a position next year. This was devastating as it brings our one income household down to none. So the last month or so of knowing we weren’t going to have an income has been nothing short of a stress fest. This problem came to an end this week. The other teachers in the science department at my husband’s school heard about his situation. One of them was planning on taking a half year sabbatical. She decided to make it a full year sabbatical, giving my husband her contract. We are safe for another year! I was speechless when my husband told me. What a huge kindness! I have to find some way to thank her! Flowers maybe?

The third is to do with my Ph.D. Lately, I’ve been lost. I’ve had no motivation to leave the house to go to work/school, whatever you consider Ph.D. research to be. My dissertation is stuck in ethics, I’m having trouble finding participants for the other studies and I’m completely overwhelmed trying to run the lab. I know this is just typical stress that most people experience, but I have this bad habit of defining my worth based on my achievements at work. Since work was going no where, I was feeling pretty worthless. I was wondering if I was cut out for research. Before we got the good news about my husband’s job I was wondering if I should be quitting and trying to find a real job. I guess I was looking for a sign to tell me if I was in the right place or not.

Thursday morning, I got my sign! The application I made in the fall for a Doctoral Fellowship from the Provincial Government came through! For the next two years, the government will pay me to focus solely on my research. This is amazing!! I had applied for this fellowship in 2012 and 2013 and been turned down. This was my last year to be eligible, my last chance. Just when I was starting to think quitting might be right, it came through. This validates all my hard work. I’m going to do my Ph.D. research!

So there you have it, good things can come in threes too. I like this superstition much better. It’ll put me on the lookout for good thing, big or small.

Do you have any good news? I ‘d love to hear it, no matter how big or small!

lego girl

If you haven’t seen the Lego Movie, you need to see it! The “Everything is Awesome” song is very catchy and will put a smile on your face!



The Panic Devil and the Optimistic Angel

Those of you who have experienced depression know about that battle that goes on inside of yourself. It’s a constant struggle between the devil and the angel on your shoulders. The devil tells you you are worthless while the angel tells you to pick yourself up and get in gear. At the end of the battle, you are left exhausted and disappointed because you can’t just do what the angel says and leave the devil in the dust. It’s not that simple.

This scenario was triggered in me yesterday when the husband called after work. Bad news, that high school enrollment for next September is down and he’ll likely be out of a job. He’s a high school science teacher. This really threw me for a loop. I thought we were safe. He had just gotten tenure, meaning the school board would have a position for him. I guess if there are no kids to teach, they can’t very well have a teaching post for him. We are a single income (his) household, so this set me into panic mode. What are we going to do? I’ll have to quit my Ph.D. to get a job!

What if I did have to get a job? What would I do? I’ve got a M.Sc. in biology and I’m halfway through a Ph.D. in vision science. So I’m highly educated, but I have no skills and no experience. Who would hire me?  In addition, I live in Quebec and don’t speak French. I knew this would come back to bite me eventually. This rules out the possibility of working in retail or service industries. I have babysitting experience, but if I handed my resume full of conference presentations and cadaver research into a daycare center, I’m pretty sure they’d laugh me out of the building.

After some major panic, throwing up and a rather nice chat with some new friends I’ve made through blogging (thank you!), I came back to Earth. I tried to look at the situation logically. It’s not certain there wont be a job for him, so it’s not worth more panic….yet. There is a possibility of me getting a government fellowship. Please provincial government, fund me! I wont know about the fellowship until next month. So I can delay more panic until then.

This is the problem with higher education. You get stuck in a small bubble with all the other competitive, highly motivated students and professors and you forget that there are destinations other than being a tenured professor. You forget that there is a whole world out there that requires skills other than being an encyclopedia for a very specific field. It becomes hard to see a relationship between your specialized training and employment in the outside world. At least this is how I was feeling when I started my second round of panic.

Just as the panic devil was about to get me going again, the angel on my other shoulder chimed in. If this were true, then there would be an awful lot more highly educated, unemployed people. Of all the things I’ve done in grad school, there must be some transferable skills there. I was a teaching assistant for an anatomy lab. I dissected cadavers and taught students what was what. Unless I wanted to be a serial killer, the dissecting wasn’t going to help, but the teaching, that was good. I taught them about all the different nerves in the body and how to tell a vein from an artery. That’s attention to detail. Another skill! I was starting to feel better. What about all my conference presentations? There’s organization, communication and interpersonal skills. Alright! I was starting to feel like a rock star! Albeit, an unemployed rock star.

It’s important not to look at a situation through the devil’s eyes. You need to knock some sense into that angel too though. Singing empty optimism isn’t going to get you anywhere. What is true about the situation? I mean solid facts, not what you think you know or what you assume others think. Facts. Since I am being forced out of my academic bubble I have to make changes. I’m going to take my set of facts (knowledge and transferable skills) and go in a different direction.

I’m feeling better about this forced change. I know it’ll be hard and extremely unpleasant and part of me still wants to curl up in a ball and hide in the corner, but I know buried under all that theory, there are transferable skills. The thought of leaving my Ph.D. still breaks my heart, but I know I’m not doomed.

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