blog #2_

I survived my first semester of grad school! WOOOOO! Looking back, so much has happened since I first started my Master’s program in Archaeology. While it has been very rewarding, it hasn’t been without its challenges. I’ve learned a lot through my research and course work, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I want to share with you a couple lessons I’ve learned through this semester.

5 Lessons I Learned in my First Semester of Grad School

Lesson #1: Don’t underestimate how important it is to keep your body healthy

This is one of the more recent lessons I’ve learned. As a graduate student, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking: “do whatever you need to do to get the work done”. This can sometimes cause students to put health lower on their priority list; this certainly happened to me. In my last week of course work I had three presentations and three papers to hand in. On one day I had two presentations to go through, back to back. Being a perfectionist, I was up late the night before working on my visual presentations and only got three hours of sleep. After getting though my first presentation the next day, I rushed to the other side of campus for my second presentation and skipped lunch. Needless to say, I didn’t make it through the second one; I almost fainted. Initially, I felt embarrassment but when I collected myself I started thinking about what I could learn from this situation (never undermine the power of positive thinking). This brought me to the realization that when health falls to the waste-side, it will affect everything else. So I pass this wisdom to you; eat, sleep, learn…

Lesson #2: Take time for yourself but also don’t forget to have fun with friends

…however, to only eat, sleep, and learn is not sustainable. I found myself feeling like a robot about halfway through the semester. “BEEP! Wa-ke up. BOOP! In-gest food. VERP! Be-ing hu-man is o-ver-ra-ted. I am su-per hu-man”. Fortunately, that caught up to me. I started noticing that I was being less and less productive half way through the semester, and I decided that it might be time to switch things up. I started to take some time for myself every day and acknowledging it as such. I started going to The Works, a recreational gym at MUN, three times a week. With their great variety of strength training and cardio equipment, I could switch up my workout every once in a while and not get bored. I also started taking time to watch a movie with my long-distance boyfriend over Skype with a bag of popcorn once a week.

In St. John’s, the weather can be brutal and the lure of staying at home in pajamas is strong some days. But go out! Take time to get to know your friends and spend time in the city. You don’t want to go home over the winter break and have nothing to report to your family about the city you’ve been living in while you were away. Go to a Kitchen Party in Quidi Vidi or take part in a Star Wars marathon with friends. All of these things helped me get back to a good headspace and back on track with my schoolwork.

Lesson #3: Open yourself up to learning from others

A lot of reading is involved in being a graduate student, and often times I find myself looking only within my specialized field to answer questions I have. This semester, I had the pleasure of taking a course called “When Worlds Meet”: Nature/Culture and Ontological Conflicts”. While this course is designed for students in the archaeology program, it wasn’t intrinsically archaeological. In fact, students from the geography department also took the class. Dr. Mario Blazer encouraged us to acknowledge the things we take for granted in our research and “open it up” to explore different ways of thinking about our research problems and to approach them considering how our decisions may affect a wide network of actors. It was interesting to learn how other students from the course were relating to the material and recycling it into their projects. Talking to my colleagues helped me develop my own ideas and I couldn’t have done it without them.

Lesson #4: Don’t be scared to challenge yourself

I feel like I took a lot on this semester: starting my research in Memorial’s Applied Archaeological Science (MAAS) lab, applying for funding, doing mandatory course work, while also taking on an experimental side-project with my supervisor. Challenge accepted! It’s been a challenging semester, but it has also opened up exciting new doors. For example, I started working on this side-project that will eventually contribute to a conference poster that will be presented in the New Year. Even though it was intense, I think that I’m better for it, and I learned a lot more than I thought possible. I really got inspired by my work. Questions started coming at me faster than I could answer them and it was awesome.

Lesson #5: Failing at something is just as important as succeeding

Failure is inevitable. I have caught myself in moments of anxiety fearing almost for my life that something was going to fail. In those times it was useful to give myself a reality-check. The fear is based from a real place because failure affects people in a real way. If you don’t get the funding, then you might not be able to do the research you want to do. Or if your experiment doesn’t work then you might need to evaluate if it’s worth it to try again or move on to the next challenge. In the past month, I was preparing archaeological samples for chemical analysis. My first and second batches failed. I really wanted to give up but I decided I should try again. Before I did that I spent a day experimenting with the method trying to find the sweet spot. I learned a lot more from this experiment than I would have had the method worked in the first place.

“It’s a learning experience” is my motto. Nobody is perfect and everyone is trying to figure it out. I also came out of this semester as a stronger, more positive person and I can’t wait for what’s in store next.

– Natasha