School has been far more intense than I could have imagined, and this last year has been especially hard for me. I've been doing a lot of intense thinking about what I want to do next year, once I no longer have to work towards a degree. Should I really have shoehorned myself into all these classes in a desperate attempt to graduate in four years? Maybe not. But here I am anyway, powerless to stop it. Despite the fear and trepidation, I registered to graduate, took my grad photos, and have made it publicly known in my social circle that I Am Graduating. And also, that I'm taking "a year off."
I don't even know if I can really call it that, since it's not like I'm taking a year in the middle of a degree. It's become rapidly apparent to me that if I wanted to be in graduate school next year, I would have had to put more effort into finding a supervisor. When I did summon the courage to email one, she encouraged me to explore my options more (and then come back to her if I was still interested- so it's not like she just wanted to get rid of me). I realized as I left her office that she was right. If I'm going to spend 2-3 years working closely with a supervisor, I need to make sure they're someone I want to work with, and also that their research will be something I can stomach. The only thing I'm sure of so far is that I can get behind almost any research- it's all interesting to me, especially translational research. But I know I can't devote the time I need to to that, and to finishing my degree. Hence, the gap year.
It does make sense, I suppose, to take my time and carefully consider this decision. Do I even want to do traditional science grad school? I still think I do, but there are other options out there. Either way, I'm giving myself an academic year. I don't want a year off spent waitressing (or potentially doing something more interesting I can't imagine) to turn into two, or three, or ten. I want to go to graduate school. I know I have what it takes, despite what it sounds like. Geez, she can't even handle classes and planning for her future, some may think. Why does she think she can handle the stress of a graduate degree? Which is something I've thought myself more than once, but honestly... it just doesn't make sense anymore.
I've come way too close to the edge this year, way more than I'd like. Being on the precipice of the rest of your life is completely terrifying. Don't I owe it to myself to take it slow? It's not like I'm graduating and being like "whew, no more science for me!" My degree wasn't a waste of time, it was a learning experience and a tremendous opportunity that allowed me to gain lots of relevant skills I plan to use. I still want to be working in that area. But if trying to pursue the "traditional" path is... not working for me, why not modify it for my life? Pushing myself down that road would ultimately end poorly. I'm choosing myself, and my own life and health, by stopping for a second to breathe.
That being said... is this year going to be sunshine and rainbows? I highly doubt it. Am I going to get rejected a lot? Well, doesn't everybody? The worst thing I could do now is curl up in a ball and refuse to face the world because I couldn't do it "properly." Would I really look back on one odd year as a horrendous mistake that ruined my life? I don't think so. I'm not going into this because "ugh, the real world has GOT to be better than school!" but more because "I need time and space where I'm not concerned about my final grades to make sure that the next educational decision I make is the right one." I'm not going on a year to "see what happens" so much as it's to take time to evaluate my next steps, keeping a goal and a deadline in mind. THAT being said, I don't want to be so rigid that I refuse to let life happen. Obviously having a goal and a deadline will help me keep this year to just one instead of three, but I still don't know what could happen. When I look back at my life as it's unfolded so far, great things have come where I least expected them, and not everything turns out as I expect. That satellite project didn't get me anywhere, but I can still put it on my CV. Deciding to take the leap and pursue undergraduate research paid off in more ways than I could have imagined. Even last summer turned out wildly different than what I expected. Heck, this YEAR did.
My point is: I can't predict where I'm going to be a year from now, but I'm still in the driver's seat. I can still steer, but I don't know what's ahead on the highway. I'm hoping that by keeping my seat buckled, speed limit reasonable, and a destination in mind is about all I can do. I don't know if there's construction ahead that leads me down a side road, or a slow vehicle I get stuck behind, or a gas station just when I'm about to run out. I can't pretend I'm not afraid that all that's ahead of me is a giant boulder blocking my only path, whatever that looks like when it's not a metaphor. But it's not like I can stop driving.
With all of this being out in the open... I'm really trying to think (in between studying for my finals) about what I want to try and accomplish next year. I figured maybe one of those things could be a blog. Sure, maybe no one would read it, but if I could find someone's blog right now full of their experiences on a "year off," especially a year off that's NOT spent teaching English abroad (not knocking that, I just have no interest in doing such), I'd really appreciate it. Maybe this will be the last you hear of me for quite some time, but I hope it's not. I guess we'll see how it goes.
(a side note- quick but very heartfelt shoutout to redbeard for helping me through all of this, time after time after time. He's heard the most about it and been unwaveringly supportive, and I appreciate more than he knows)