Hi there! My name is Deanna, and like many of you, I spend a lot of time pretending I have it all together.
I’m a third-year Ph.D. student in Medicinal Chemistry – and no, you’re not the first person to ask me what that means. My short answer is “chemistry as applied to drug discovery.” My long answer includes phrases like “organic synthesis” and “it depends who you ask.”
Prior to moving to Michigan to start grad school, I grew up in a small town in eastern New York, about an hour outside NYC. I completed my B.S. in Chemistry at a tiny-liberal-arts-college-you’ve-never-heard-of called Houghton College in the-middle-of-nowhere-western-New-York, and I loved it there. When I signed on for graduate school, it didn’t take me long to realize that life at a big research institution like the University of Michigan would be a far cry from the life I was used to where everybody knew my name.
I quickly found that for me one of the keys to doing life in this very different environment would be finding my niche. Within the context of a university with 40,000+ students in a city of 115,000+ people, I would have to find my place as a part of something smaller to avoid feeling lost. This made my choice of a program in a small-to-moderate sized department a good fit. I also explored opportunities to become involved in other small communities both on and off campus.
What I didn’t realize as immediately was that finding the right research group was also an essential part of the key to my success in grad school. In hindsight, I think I overestimated my flexibility and underestimated the difficulty of this task. After completing several research rotations, joining a lab, and starting a dissertation project, I discovered that the lab I had joined was actually not a good fit for me. When I took off the blinders of Trying-To-Make-It-Work, this realization came as quite a shock. I felt betrayed by my circumstances and my own choices and seriously considered leaving graduate school altogether.
As it turns out, I’m still here, and I intend to complete my Ph.D. A lot of soul searching and some dedicated searching for a group landed me a spot in my current lab, where my research involves synthesis of peptidomimetics that act at the opioid receptors with the ultimate goal of developing non-addictive pain medication.
So, after facing one of the hardest challenges to date in both my personal and professional life, here I am writing about it to an audience of friends and strangers in the hopes of sharing a bit of my story and encouraging you to share yours. There’s no denying that graduate school is hard, but perhaps a transparency about the patterns and practices of academia that aren’t healthy ones is the first step towards changing them. I look forward to adding to that openness through my posts on this blog by putting away the mask of having-it-all-together, sharing my thoughts and stories about life as a graduate student, and asking how we can help one another along on this difficult journey.