One of the nice things about graduate school is, once you’ve completed your coursework, you have a lot of unstructured time to devote to your own research. For the most part, that’s very liberating. The lack of predefined tasks is not, however, without its downsides. You will have days where you accomplish absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. It doesn’t matter how self-motivated you are. You will sit staring at a book or a computer screen for hours, and your brain will simply refuse to come along for the ride.
You: Brain, please think about my dissertation.
Your Brain: (petulantly) No! I wanna look at blooooooooggggs.
You: We just did that.
Your Brain: IT’S BEEN TEN SECONDS SOMETHING COULD HAVE CHANGED DOITDOITDOITDOIT—
A day like this will make you feel terrible, and you will probably have the urge to bitch about it. The trouble is, this is not a situation designed to elicit sympathy from others.
Medical Professional: I had the worst day today.
Grad Student: Ugh, I know how you feel. My day was awful.
Medical Professional: Oh no, what happened?
Grad Student: First of all, I was out drinking with friends last night, so I didn’t get going till 9:30. I finally made it to the library around 10:15, and I tried to read this stupid book, but it was really boring and I couldn’t stop checking my e-mail. Then, around 2:30, I had an idea—is our usual understanding of the Stoics wrong, and could their writings contain a conception of human nature that would revolutionize moral philosophy? Then I was like, nah, probably not, so I went home and took a nap. Like I said, awful. What about your day?
Medical Professional: I had to work a twelve hour shift and two children died in my arms.
Grad Student: Oh. Yikes.
Medical Professional: Mm.
I suppose it’s good to keep in mind that, while grad school fail days are inevitable, and really do make you feel terrible, they happen to all of us, and there really are much, much worse things in the world.