Why was it challenging to start a PhD coming from Peru?

I want to make you aware that doing a PhD is challenging, but not only because is academically arduous. Five years ago, I moved 6000 kilometers away from my family, friends, and systems of rest. These supported me to perform at my best during my years at Universidad Nacional de IngenierĂ­a, and all of the sudden they were gone. These systems of support were running silently in the backdrop, and is now my goal to bring awareness to this not so talked topic.

Of course everything is super exciting at the beginning of graduate school. That excitement, academically and socially, can keep you going for a while. Nevertheless as the years sink in and everybody settled into the routines of working intensively at the lab or in the library, you will start to notice that something is missing. Back in Peru, as a family member, there were set times for dinners, trips, or the movies. In graduate school, there will be freedom, for now you can choose to do any activity that you desire. With this new gained freedom, you could start to think how to fill in the previously filled family space. Some very good and compatible roommates may do the job.

During saturday nights, back in my undergraduate, I used to sit with friends for hours recapping all of the exciting things that had happened over the week. Having done that weekend ritual for about 6 years there was an unusual silence during Saturday evenings. You may not be able to replicate the same human interactions but you will find people with similar interests. Together you may set into a periodic meeting in a weekly basis to discuss the ups and downs of the PhD life.

Some systems of rest are portable and others not. Video games can now run through the internet. You may be able to find a new soccer team or some other group activity soon enough. But you will need to get used to the new scenery. If a walk in the pier was your thing and you are in the middle of a desert region, oh well. There will be some time for exploration and discovery in this new geographic area, you just need to be mindful about what is filling this spot.

Well, it turns out you do not only need work, but rest. It turns out that rest was like a build-in feature back in Peru. All of the sudden graduate school pressed the RESET button. The scaffolding for your academic best will soon be gone and you may feel you are lagging behind. Over the next years your side task, besides your doctoral work, will be to recreate your systems of support, to once again be at your best self.

(photo by Matthias Klaiber)

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