There are subtleties of PhD student life that you really aren’t warned about, can’t be warned about, until you experience it. The slower passage of the typical PhD education makes you a more permanent figure in the college than the typical bachelors or master’s degree student. You marinate longer in your research questions and may start to resent the impermanence and lack of depth contained within a Master’s thesis (where in a dissertation you would ask, but how? and why?!). In shared offices you see numerous masters students begin and finish their work year after year. As a teaching assistant you nurture undergraduate students from nervous young freshmen to mature, educated, and eager minded young graduates and professionals.
There is so much opportunity to be proud of your friends and students, but also so much room for goodbyes. The revolving door of Masters and undergraduate degrees, especially combined with the revolving population in Hawaiʻi, leads to a lot of bitter sweet goodbyes. Sweet for knowing so many people, sweet for appreciating their accomplishment, but bitter to say goodbye and continue on with your longer, more in depth research, knowing that you will have to make new friends in the coming fall.
The expertise you gain in a graduate degree also slowly, perhaps in an imperceptive way at first, hones and specializes your knowledge on a particular subject. Your knowledge and interest in one or a few topics becomes so great that you may find it frustrating or difficult to “start at the beginning” for friends and family who do not share your interest. You yearn for connections to those with similar knowledge and interest, yet the number of people who share the expertise to discuss these topics becomes fewer as your knowledge grows.
That being said, it is very important, especially for geographically isolated students and students in obscure fields to attend conferences in order to make friends and contacts in your field. I am very much looking forward to attending the Phycological Society of America conference in Summer of 2019. Conference attendance can also be motivational to drive research results so that they may be presented at the conference. It is important to remember that you are not the only one who cares about, can understand, and is excited about your research! There are also people outside your lab who are doing really cool things in your field! It is great to see that graduate students in phycology really do go on to have careers, continue research, and be involved in the global or national phycological community.