Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Finding a Community

Sometimes wandering into a meeting to which you have not been invited can be a great way to meet people… Yesterday I happened by a meeting that had paused and went in to say hello to a friend. Most serendipitously, she introduced me to a colleague. This colleague is an MD, PhD and works on social science questions! I knew these kinds of people existed, you know, people like me only further along and with real jobs, but until yesterday I was somewhat convinced that they were a highly ephemeral, difficult to track down, and perhaps even dwindling group. Through this chance meeting, however, I discovered a whole conference dedicated to MD/PhD students working in the social sciences and the humanities ( I was so excited yesterday that I even drafted an abstract to submit as a potential poster or presentation at the conference! (I also called the other social science MD/PhD at Michigan and we are jointly submitting the abstract for the paper we worked on last semester.)

In retrospect (even just one day later), this all seems like a fairly small thing. Yet, in reality, it’s huge. I’ve written before about how the MSTP retreats are like a vacation from explaining why I’m going to be in school until I’m 30. It is really refreshing to be able to discuss your work and your program with people who truly understand. This conference holds to potential to be a vacation from explaining why not only am I going to be in school until I’m 30 but that I’m not doing my PhD in a basic science lab and that’s why I’m still a pre-candidate instead of a candidate like the rest of my class, why I’m still taking classes, and why it’s crazily more difficult to get funding. I can’t even describe how wonderful this will be.

No matter what kind of program/job/set of life circumstances you’re in, having a community who understands you is critical. Often, we’re left cobbling together people who understand little parts of our lives - the school friends, the family friends, the yoga friends, etc. Occasionally, we meet a few people, or find a place where we truly feel like we fit in. My advice to you: hold on to those people, and hang out in those places. When you are feeling low, these are the people who will bring you up.

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