crisis, continued

March 21, 2006

i don’t exactly know what’s happening right now. i can honestly say i never considered leaving the phD part of my md/phD until, like, 2 days ago, and now it seems like the only thing to do. i keep wondering if i have gone crazy without realizing it — who just throws something like this AWAY, for one? i can’t figure out what i like, what i want, where my career should go. i thought i liked science, but now i’m worried that i just *wanted* to like it, and i’m very good at convincing myself (and others) that i’m all pumped up about something

when really . . .

oh god. i don’t know. and going back to medicine — it’s not like that was all roses and smiles, either. i hated many things about my clinical year: feeling rushed, feeling stupid, feeling bossed around, feeling not-in-control of my day. but i will admit that despite all of this stress, it wasn’t boring. or maybe i was too busy and stressed to BE bored. i have already opened up to some of the members of my lab about my thoughts and anxieties — i don’t hold back when i’m having a crisis like this, i spew bilious uncertainties all over the place. i can’t help it. the more i repeat and repeat what i’m thinking/saying, the more i can convince myself that things are real, that i’m making sense, and all that. or maybe that’s how i lie to myself. i’m so confused.

someone in my lab suggested that i make a list. well:

what do I like about research:

– freedom to make my own schedule
– working at my own pace
– having my own projects and ‘managing’ something by myself
– the satisfaction when something works (rare)
– the fun and nice bunch of people i work with in my lab, including my boss, who i am very lucky to have as a boss

what do I not like about research:

– i guess i just think it’s kind of boring most of the time. there is a reason why i fall asleep in >50% of the seminars i go to. i also fall asleep watching football and movies i don’t like. a pattern forms . . .
– i don’t get excited about things just because they’re ‘cool’. yes, i get excited when data for MY projects work, because then it means i could get published and feel good about myself and maybe graduate someday.
– i always feel like i’m not working nearly as hard as i should — because i’m really not inspired to do so
– the fact that my stuff, like, never works and my project has turned into a genetics fishing trip*
– writing (things like this prelim = killing me), reading papers.

what do i like about clinical medicine:

– feelings of accomplishment when someone improves under the team’s care
– the problem-solving aspect of it (and the fact that many problems CAN be solved/understood — unlike the way lab seems, where the problems seem infinite and the prospect of actually solving them bleak)
– working with interesting and/or nice people, especially younger patients and children — i even like teenagers
– the career flexibility once residency is over
– not boring — days went by quickly, though not without a lot of anxiety/stress on my part

(when i say ‘medicine’, i really mean pediatrics or psychiatry, the two fields i would consider true possibilities. i don’t know where this sudden re-emergence of my interest in psych has come from, except maybe my own newfound craziness . . .)

what do i not like about clinical medicine:

– procedures (well, maybe i would like them if i didn’t feel so #(@#@( incompetent)
– long hours and lack of sleep
– lack of control over my time on an hour-to-hour basis
– some of the attendings/residents (which can turn a team toxic and make life suck)
– emergencies
– feeling rushed
– always worrying that i’m not good enough at it (although i do that with everything, so really this is a non-issue)
– adult patients who have brought their maladies on themselves or who are mean and unappreciative

what do i want in my eventual life/career:

– to have a strong marriage and family and 3 gorgeous/brilliant children, preferably 2 girls
– to be able to work part time for a number of years while my gorgeous/brilliant children grow up. yes, this is controversial. no, i didn’t put that on my application to be md/phd. but things change. i have changed. and i don’t want a nanny raising MY children. at least not all of the time.
– to be able to go back and enjoy my career once they are high-school-aged (or something like that)
– to feel like i’m doing a good job on a daily basis and feel like i’m putting real effort and sweat into my career and life

i think i know what i want to do, career-wise. but i will be (a little bit) patient. i meet with my advisory dean in one week from today, and so i will ruminate on this for those 7 days. it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out my own true desires, but i feel like i’ve spent so much energy on measuring up to some figment of what i think i’m ‘supposed’ to be that this really is difficult and painful. i guess it has to be.

* fishing trip: when your project consists of ‘fishing’ for something good and publishable — ie, picking genes one at a time from a list until one of them does something worth noting. this is an annoying way to go about science, because when genes are ‘misses’, you have wasted a lot of time and have nothing to show for yourself


  • Reply Jon in Michigan March 21, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Sounds like you've reached the "why the heck am I doing this" phase. It comes at very strange times in our lives, but during grad school is a big one. I had it, and lots of other friends had it too. Its a time when you suddenly realize that you are no longer following a pre-lit path. I think making your list is a good idea. Writing it down and revising and refining it will help to give you an objective look at it. For me, it allows me to stop thinking about it because its on paper and "safe". Hang in there, Sarah. Keep pushing forward with what you are doing until you can make a clear decision about a change of course. I hope your meeting next week goes well.

  • Reply sleepless March 21, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Hang in there, Sarah! I am thinking of you. Call any time if you want to chat.

  • Reply Bridgette March 21, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Wow, I am so with you (thanks for the comment, by the way). I haven't come up with a way to verbalize what I am feeling as clearly as you have, but my lab frustration has definitely reached a boiling point. Keeping doing what you are doing, but most of all, be true to yourself.I've been writing/revising/being too chicken to post a topic just like this for a while, but I think tonight I'm going to do it–you've inspired me. Let me know how things turn out. Confused MudPhuds unite!

  • Reply A March 22, 2006 at 12:21 am

    I can't help but notice that this was posted at 4.09 AM. that is wrong in so many ways. Having been, unfortunately, awake at that hour on far more occasions than any sane person should be, I can tell you that clear, coherent thinking is rarely, if ever, apparent at that hour. It doesn't matter if you got up early and it's 4 or if you haven't gotten to bed yet and it's 4. No good either way. Please keep in mind that the patients most likely to be seen at 4 AM usually require one kind of doctor far more than any other…a psychiatrist.

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 22, 2006 at 12:30 am

    to A: uh, it was actually 8 am; i just didn't bother to change the timestamp on blogger. i agree that 4 am is a bad, bad time to be making decisions 🙂

  • Reply A March 22, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    I wasn't suggesting that you need a psychiatrist…I was trying to influence your career decisions away from being up at 4 in the morning. No one EVER needed to clone DNA (or do radiation oncology) at 4 in the morning. Ever.

  • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 22, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    a: are you who i think you are? a certain friend who really, really loves to promote radiation oncology (keep trying, i might come around!) 🙂 don't worry, i will spend as little of the rest of my life awake at 4 am as is possible. i promise!

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