Friday, December 30, 2016

The Road Ahead

I have loved too much
To not believe in hate
That cold, dead-eyed eel
Worming through hot veins
I have closed too many doors
To believe in any god that would open more
Or even crack a window
And really, I've seen
Too much of reality
To believe in any gods at all
Except maybe ones we make
In our image, in our heads
We have sung too many songs
Sad, or otherwise
Without knowing all of the words
Mumbling through our uncertainty
With the confidence that accuracy is worth less than joy
An apt metaphor
For how we live life

I have seen, in your eyes
A sort of look
That leaves me unnerved
With the way it shines
And seems to talk without words
A stupid turn of phrase
For reading body language 
And a little optimistic
Facing the dragon fire
As if I ever minded
The burns and scars
But in the mirror
I see only a roadmap
Of lost causes and forgotten dreams
Mixed with a little bit of sadness
And bad eyesight hidden behind old glasses
I have spoken too many words
And heard a fair share too
To ever give them much worth
Or pay them half a mind
Since words may be cliche
But cliches are cliches for a reason
Even if they're stupid 

We have killed too much hope
To be ashamed of the trophies we took
Proudly displaying them beside scars
Like glass cases of keepsakes
Or the heads of some great animal
Mounted on our wall
Pointing out their origins
With the nostalgic pride of an old soldier
Or anyone who is stuck in their past
Fighting nightmare battles in your head
Of days long past
Passing long days lost in old glories
And maybe a few exaggerated stories
Knowing that to smile and laugh
At what you've done
And where you've been
Can only hold back the tears until nightfall

You have had to swim
Too many deep oceans
Just to stand before the mountains
Over which you must now climb
At least in the water
You knew the shark's intentions
Even if you never expected to make it out alive
Now, facing the wolves
Howling in the foothills
Feeling like a fly
Caught in the web of a dead spider
Having avoided the jaws of fate
Still to find an unworthy end
And between the sharks behind you
And the bared fangs of the wolves before you
You remember why
You never trust someone
Whose smiles show their teeth

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An Academic Journey: The First Semester In Retrospect

So here we are. I took my last final of the semester yesterday, and now I have some free time to reflect on my thoughts and feelings concerning my first semester as a PhD student. I have to admit, that for the most part my masters degree was much more stressful, and I would like to say that that fact is a credit to the network I have here. In Baltimore, I was utterly alone and isolated, while here I have some friends who have been extremely instrumental in keeping my brain from exploding. 

I'm used to tough coursework. I'm used to dealing with fast-paced classes with a ton of information being thrown at me, like a fat kid playing dodgeball. I'm used to learning a ton of science-based information while trying to get through assignments and write papers and deal with weird administrative crap. Overall, I feel like i struggled more because I hadn't been in a scholarly or academic setting for quite some time. I was worried about that. However, barring some weird events before final grades are submitted, I think I did fairly well... at least academically speaking. 

Other stuff, though? Not so much. 

See, where I stand right now, I'm not entirely sure where my academic career is going. I like learning. I love science. I honestly had spent a lot of years determined to make this my life. Now here I am, at the end of a pretty successful first semester, and I'm starting to second guess everything.

Academia is grim, and the market is saturated more and more every year with PhD students and fresh scientists who are entering a market that is so needlessly high-stress and competitive. The commodification of science has been an extreme detriment to the actual pursuit of scientific knowledge. Publish or perish is a direct result of this. Now, it seems like every lab is just an assembly line for grant applications and publications. grant funding is hyper-competitive, and tends to focus more on big headlines and human applications rather than any sort of general science knowledge. Science used to be seen as a sort of public service... the work of a researcher was seen to benefit humanity and society. Now, it's just seen as a sort of elitist, self-serving approach, ignoring the fact that most PhDs are signing up for a decrease in net lifetime earnings, long hours in a highly competitive environment, and no real sort of recognition. You can't be a scientist for the love of knowledge anymore, because it isn't enough to be curious. You have to be curious, plus willing to work insane hours, to always bring work home, to sacrifice relationships and earning potential, plus keep an incredible pace of work just to stay up to date. Even then, you're not guaranteed anything for your struggles unless you can sell it well, with the right spin, to the right people. Aside from that, the culture in academia is creating what seems like a resurgence of academic misconduct which is damaging the overall credibility of scientific endeavors. As someone who loves the idea of research, and who loves the idea of teaching, the fact that I'm expected to make barely livable wages for the duration of my PhD training, then make slightly more livable wages as a post-doc, then struggle for a few years in hopes of finding a place to start a lab, the whole environment is a huge turn off to me.

Even ignoring broader problems with how science is conducted, and how the whole process has been overly commercialized, the training process is not good for the trainees. I've talked before about how nobody gives a crap about your well-being or your success, and how the expectation is that you really aren't a person when you're in the lab or the classroom (and you're always in the lab or classroom.) The professors don't care unless they are your PI. The administration doesn't care because they have no incentives to. They only profit from what you do, and you are entirely expendable. Shit rolls down hill, and PhD students are unfortunately at the bottom of that hill. In this first semester I've had my paperwork shredded, a couple of absolutely atrocious professors, and a host of administrative issues stemming from this idea that we don't matter until we're in a lab. On some level, I get it: their job security matters more than a first year student who can be easily removed and replaced if things don't work out,.. but they are in a job where they are supposed to be fostering the next generation of scientists, not just throwing shit at us over and over to see if we can dodge it. I don't feel like being told that I'm too stupid, unfocused, and old to get a PhD helps me become a better scientist. (I have a masters, and I started my PhD at 25). I don't feel like being talked down to by a professor because they are incapable of expressing their expectations or teaching the material is a proper way to inspire or retain students. (I was told I could never be a biochemist. I have a masters in biochemistry.) I don't need professors wasting class showing off how smart they are... we get it, you're a scientist. I don't need to have my goals compromised by professors who have decided to "change their mind" about something we've been agreed upon since I got here, simply because it helps their career in the very short term. I especially don't need all of these factors thrown at me in a place where I am entirely unsupported by the staff and faculty. Again, the hardest part of this hasn't been learning. It isn't papers, or exams, or really trying to figure out how to ask the right questions so that you can answer them in the right way with the best experiments.

The hardest part of my first semester as a PhD student has been putting up with everyone else's bullshit. 

I know it is idealistic of me, but I wanted to go to a smaller institution in order to really not have to deal with that fast-paced, super-intense environment, and all of the weird political bullshit that seemed to arise from it. Instead, I have all of the bullshit, but with lower quality science that guarantees me a mediocre academic pedigree at best. The whole process ha already made me bitter, and I haven't even taken my qualifying exams. I'm sure that after quals, and once I'm in a lab full time and working on my project, some of the unnecessary bullshit will fade away, but for now? For now, I feel like I resent the fact that all of this ludicrous bullshit has been the direct result of other people, and therefore was out of my hands to respond to. There were no attempts at professional courtesy. No heads up about things that changed my plans, and could very well impact my whole future. As is, my academic goals are pretty messed up simply by the fact that the neuroscience faculty here are all now either retiring, unfunded, or fully staffed and no longer taking students. The whole reason I came here was the strength of that part of the program, and now that it no longer exists, I feel unmotivated, frustrated, and out of sorts.

Enough whining, though. Let's get into the meat and potatoes of this whole thing. My first semester as a PhD student was not as academically grueling as my masters was. Whether that is because I learned a lot then, which I retained until now, or if there were differences in difficulty between a top institution and where I am now, or even if it's just the pacing, I don't know. I won't say i'm proud of my academic performance this semester, but I'm definitely not disappointed. I think I'm exactly on track with where I thought I would be and where I need to be. I didn't fail out, so whatever. To anyone considering graduate school, don't worry about the coursework. If you're a good writer and you have any kind of study ethic, you'll  sail through it. There weren't quite as many papers as I had expected there to be, which sadly worked against me, as I consider my academic writing one of my stronger skills, but the work and classes aren't hard. 

Being a Teaching Assistant this semester was honestly the single greatest highlight. I loved it. I was thanked by students, and that justified having to relearn introductory genetics and write quizzes, and deal with proctoring. I liked how much I learned from them, and how much confidence TAing gave me in my own knowledge. I think that it was maybe better for me than it was for them, since they had to try to learn through that whole process of my self-discovery, whereas I just got to grow as a person and feel like an educator. It really made me want to teach at this level more, and look forward to my TA assignment next semester. It also made me sad that getting an academic job at a research university is such a shit show, because I'm not sure I'll ever be the kind of person willing to put up with the necessary bullshit to do it. We'll see.

Rotations. Oh man, rotations. I did one rotation this first semester, and it was a slow start. I felt the PI and the people in the lab were a bit standoffish, and that I was kind of thrown into things with no preamble or any sort of work up to what I was doing. I wasn't apprised of the project, I wasn't given reading assignments, or really informed about the goal of what I was doing. At least that's how the first few weeks felt. Fortunately, I really clicked with the technician and the undergraduate I was working with, and I was really getting to the heart of what I was working towards... just in time for the rotation to end and finals to begin. I wish I could have spent more time there, or that I had known enough to be able to use the time I had a little more wisely, but I'm very appreciative to the lab, now, for all of their help. I even appreciated all the things that went wrong, and the three weeks of failed troubleshooting, because I learned a lot. I could see myself staying there in the long run. Unfortunately, due to some issues I mentioned earlier, my next rotation is now up in the air. The PI I was going to work with decided to take another student, and the professor the department chair wanted to assign me to is someone I legitimately refuse to work with because of his unprofessional and generally negative attitude towards graduate students. So now I will either be randomly assigned to a lab which I may or may not have interest in, or I will be in a lab with a PI who has no time for a rotation trainee and no real vested interest in training a rotation student, as their lab is full. Neither of those outcomes is especially appealing to me, but I guess half the fun of being a lowly PhD student is learning to roll with all of the punches and get used to the taste of bullshit. It seems the best way to dilute the taste is with alcohol, because this is graduate school and everyone drinks. (But that's a topic for another time.)

So there it is. My first semester of graduate school in a nutshell. I give it a solid 6/10. If I hadn't spent so much time and effort and misery trying to get here, I'm not even sure I'd be staying. As it is, we'll see where things stand at the end of the year once qualifying exams are done and I have a permanent place in a lab (hopefully.)

As always, I'd like to leave off with this little thought: graduate school is a labor of passion. You do it because of love... for the material, for learning. As idealistic as it sounds, and as counter to the current nature of both academia and industry as it is, I think everyone would agree: you do graduate school because you love it, and you're willing to make all of the necessary sacrifices to see it through. It isn't really something done on a whim, because it does ask so much of you, and require you to suffer through constant setbacks, failures, and frustrations. You have to love it enough for all of that to be worth it. It isn't for everyone, but if you're one of those people, then go for it. I've hated graduate school, and it has made me hate myself. I have suffered and struggled, and cursed it. 

But I have never once regretted it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

An Academic Journey: The Guilt of Self Care

It's funny really, that it took me so long to really understand the important of self-care when it comes to issues of mental health... or really any health. I was raised in an environment that very much valued a stoic approach to pain, illness, and suffering on the personal level. Part of that was just the general values of my family... my father and grandfather were both ex-military farmers who were probably half scar tissue and healed bone fractures before I was born. Any acknowledgment of pain or illness was considered a weakness, and in retrospect that was as stupid as it was unhealthy. Another part of this was just growing up poor... you ignore everything that may cost any amount of money for as long as you can, hoping it will go away and not cost anything. It was by this virtue that I spent a year walking on a torn meniscus rather than getting the surgery I needed (which is why I walk with a limp now). It was ingrained deeply into our brains that self-care was something you didn't make time for, often because you had to finish the job at hand and see to all of your other obligations, duties, jobs, and responsibilities. Ignoring injuries, ignoring illness... it all saved money, and it was expected, because you needed to be "tough." 

In regards to mental health, I carried this attitude with me for a longer time. In ways I still do, and it isn't always a good thing. With mental health, though, it's a necessary component of not feeling like you're going completely crazy. You have to make time for self care, you have to take care of yourself, and find avenues for relaxing and restoring some semblance of regular function to your life. Whether it be in response to anxiety, or depression, or overwhelming stress, it's safe to assume that finding time to unwind in a healthy, productive way is a necessary component to taking care of your mental health. 

As a graduate student, though, it is a luxury.

The time requirements of a graduate program are pretty intense. I lived through an accelerated masters program and am in the midst of a PhD program right now, and you have a lot on your plate. Classes, assignments, projects, presentations, experiments, homework, seminars, meetings, departmental whatevers, whenevers, wherever. Some programs, such as mine, also have a requirement for you to teach, adding classroom time, lesson preparation, and grading to your list of responsibilities. Throw in the stress of making shit for money on top of all of your real world expenses, and you can see that not only is there a ton of stress to contend with, but also not enough hours in a day to contend with them. In a typical week I spend 9 hours in classes, 4 hours teaching, 20 hours in the lab, 4 hours at departmental events/seminars, 3 hours doing office hours... and then I go home and study, read papers for the lab or for class, do homework or writing assignments, prepare presentations, grade quizzes, write new quizzes, and prepare a lectures for my next set of classes. Much like in professional academia, being a student-trainee in academia requires you to take home a lot of work. Even just reading a paper or two can take an hour or more, just deciphering the jargon and the results. Grading typically is only an hour or so because I only teach 3 sessions. Still, it doesn't leave a lot of room for self-care. 

The thing is, most grad students NEED that time to just sit down and take care of themselves. They need a break from the constant pressure of the frenzied rush to be on the ball at all times. We're expected to be smart, we're expected to absorb material like a sponge, and then we're expected to apply that information in various critical thinking scenarios, all while being pressured to maintain a high academic standard, and be on top of every other responsibility thrown at us, NONE of which take into account the fact that we are also people with (presumably) lives outside of the classroom and lab. It's insane, and the problems facing students who need that time to relax are multiplied by a very simple facet of academic stress:

Any time NOT spent doing something directly related to your graduate program makes you feel incredibly guilty for not devoting that time directly to graduate school. At any given time when you're doing something you enjoy, there is constantly that voice in the back of your head saying "You should be reading, you should be writing, you should be studying, you should be in the lab, you should be doing literally anything else except enjoying yourself and trying to relax." 

Even just sitting down to type this is making me feel insanely guilty, because I have an exam in a week, 2 presentations, and a problem set to do, and even though some logical part of my brain knows that sitting down for 5 minutes to rant isn't going to destroy all hopes I have of an academic future, it sure as hell feels like it. Add to that the stress of thinking that any attempt at slowing down of self-care could be viewed in a negative light, and you have a positive feedback loop of negative impacts. You stress about things, then try to de-stress, which only makes you stress about not being more productive. It's a vicious cycle, and one that is entirely unfair to get yourself caught into.

See, the thing is... you will almost always have those 5 minutes, and you should take every little breath of fresh air and fleeting moment in the sun when you can. You're going to spend enough time slaving over study materials and lab benches in the next few days/weeks/months/years. You need to take that time to take a deep breath, even when you feel like you don't have the time... maybe especially then, because holy shit I know that I have nothing to really complain about but I'm going to anyway because graduate school is pretty damn ahrd, even the second time around and it's easy to feel overwhelmed and rushed and stupid. Always feeling stupid. Every single step of the way. After every homework, every exam, you realize that even as dumb as you thought you were, you hadn't quite recognized the true depths of your own ignorance. It's disheartening, and some days you just need to sit down and watch shitty television, or take a walk, or play your favorite video game, or pick up an instrument you haven't touched in months. You need that just as much as you need to sit down and study your ass off when exams come. You're going to feel awful. I think 80% of graduate school is feeling miserable and stupid, and the other 20% is feeling tired and being broke. 

So don't be ashamed of taking the time for yourself, especially if you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or any of a dozen other issues that compromise your mental health. This is true for everyone, but especially true for graduate students. You already made a lot of sacrifices to get where you are, and you've sacrificed things in your future for a passion. Like the proverbial starving artist, you are putting love of your field before... well, most other things, really, Just don't get so caught up in it all that you forget to treat yourself like a person. We both know that grad school  sure as hell isn't going to slow down so you can take a breath...

...and seriously though, you should be reading or studying right now.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

An Academic Journey: The Great Struggle

This is my second time around for graduate school, and I feel as if I'm facing the same hurdles. There is the omnipresent feelings of ignorance and incompetence that never seems to go away. An offshoot of what is commonly referred to as "Impostor Syndrome," I feel that I am not capable or competent enough to be where I am right now, and that I've somehow only managed to succeed via a combination of random circumstances and appearing to be more capable and intelligent than I am. I do not consider myself exceptionally intelligent. I have a middling intellect at best, probably characterized by a terrible inability to focus. Compounded with mental health struggles, it makes me feel like a constant outsider in this world of highly motivated, highly intelligent individuals who all seem to be entirely more motivated than I am, and definitely seem to be adjusting and learning at a far faster pace. 

Worse than feeling too stupid to be here, and like this is an opportunity I am entirely undeserving of, I think the biggest challenge is the constant loneliness. It comes in many forms, but it never seems to be too far from the leading edge of my train of thought. In some ways, being a graduate student is terribly lonely... often at the times when you wouldn't expect it to be. Part of this may be my own social incompetence, which I will readily admit is likely a contributing factor, but I feel it as an offshoot of the above issue: I'm not on the level I need to be to connect to anyone here. The social isolation is mostly a minor, inconsequential thing... but I'm only human, and sometimes there is a desire for those brief sparks of human interaction, and they are not forthcoming. The program is relatively small, and the labs tend to be more tight-knit cliques. My current rotation is nearly finished and I'm just now getting to a point where I feel like the members of the lab acknowledge my existence as more than an extra pair of hands to do grunt work. My cohort isn't much different, and I keep failing to see any of the expected camaraderie that you hear so much about. We're not getting together to discuss intellectual ideas. We're not even getting together at a local bar to have some drinks and complain. There is no social aspect to this, other than what they try to force through mandatory seminars, offering free food and occasionally free beer, which almost instantly disband after the beverages and snacks are gone. The social framework doesn't exist, and it means that all of the time spent in the lab, in the classroom, in seminars, and at the campus for anything, is essentially a solo venture. 

Outside of this, I admit that I was hesitant to return to this area, where I had spent four years handling mental and physical health issues in unhealthy ways, surrounding myself with unhealthy people, and essentially forcing myself into isolation. The associations between then and now are not entirely lost on me, though my brief time as a graduate student in Baltimore was equally as lonely. I know this sounds like some sort of middle school emo rant, and that isn't the point. The point is that not only do you need some sort of active social framework, but having that without any understanding of what you do is draining.

I am fortunate. I have two very good roommates. I have known one of them since middle school and the other since I was a lowly undergraduate, and the living arrangement is absolutely optimal for me. Even in the area, there are people I know who I would call my friends without hesitation... with the acknowledgment that there are certain limitations to the word in that context. Within that small group, socialization is minimal-to-nonexistent. Between scheduling and other responsibilities, and my own admitted inability to be good company, it isn't like I see them very often, or interact with them, or really as if there is much of anything that exists there beyond the vaguest hint of "well, I know you, so that's something." It can be a bit frustrating, I suppose. A tad be exhausting, even. Loneliness is not a low-energy state. Hell, it would even be nice to be acknowledged as existing every once in a while. 

Now, I've written before about transience, and I think you also have to acknowledge another factor of social interactions... shit just happens. Relationships of all types suffer because of graduate school. I don't speak to my family as often as I'd like to. Friends who are far away are harder to keep in touch with, even the ones who aren't already notoriously bad at just staying in touch in general. I try to, the same way I try to interact with people in my local (I hesitate to use the phrase) social circle, but the results are appreciably dismal and disheartening. The people I regularly interact with are all in a professional context: the students I TA for, for example... or the PI in the lab I work in, or my professors or academic advisor. None of those people are my friend, nor will they really be my friend. Maybe that's a cynical way to examine the personal-professional disconnect, but I consider it a very important line to draw.

Another level of loneliness that I see around me is the disconnect in knowledge and interest. Academics are essentially examining minute details and become very hyper focused on their niche of study. I think this is partially true of every academic endeavor, but in the sciences it becomes even worse because competence in science is so often treated like magic. Even the people I know who are interested in science have a hard time with explanations of what I do, and what I'm learning, and what I'm interested in. Often, their polite questions have to be met with gross oversimplifications and a subdued passion to prevent them from getting bored, or assuming that I'm showing off. The further you get, the harder it is to talk to people outside of that world about what you actually do, and what you're interested in. It's frustrating, because you want to be able to just gush with all of the passionate, nerdy excitement that drove you to graduate school, but you also kind of want to have people not treat you like a mutant. And not the cool kind of mutant. 

Even now, I write this because I want to express some small part of how isolated I feel. Sitting in this dark little room, on this uncomfortable futon that will be my bed for the conceivable future, I've arguably been productive today, but entirely I have been sad. I feel as if the time commitments and stress are causing me to lose sight of the people who are important... and on the flip side, as much as it sucks, nobody likes to be around someone who is constantly such a downer. That's on me. Graduate school can entirely be terrible for your health and welfare, and destroy your relationships, and your mental and physical health. I've been through that before, and I honestly feel as if this is just a repeat, only on a much longer time scale since this is a commitment for most of a decade. I'm not sure if I'll have anyone around me to call my friend when it's all said and done, at least not of the current people I'd like to say are my friends. I'd make some clever analogy about binding energies and enzymatics, and how ligands bond, then disassociate, or whatever, but I'm not that clever. Some of it is probably in my head. Some of it is probably just because I'm a miserable person to be around on a good day. Hell, I may even be right about some of it. The important part, though, is that regardless of its reality, I feel it, and experience it in my head. 

So please, be mindful of the things you may have to sacrifice to follow your dreams and do what you love. Try not to get too caught up in your own bad headspace, and don't psych yourself out. Vent when you need to, and find healthy outlets when you can. Graduate school is hard enough, and you will definitely make it harder on yourself than it ever needs to be. My hat is off to those of you who manage to do it, while staying healthy, having hobbies, and developing friendships. For the rest of you, who are more like me... well, let's just keep doing the best we can, and keep hoping we don't come out the other side too messed up.

Monday, October 10, 2016

On Misogyny, via recent events (Guest written)

Today's blog is a guest piece by a very dear friend of mine, who has asked to remain anonymous. The topic is misogyny, and comes to us in light of not only recent events, but also due to the myriad of responses that she has received for speaking out. I will offer a gentle warning that she doesn't I offered to let her tell her side here, and she gladly agreed. So here, in her unedited words:

"In light of the events that have surfaced due to the leak of Trump’s misogynistic comments towards women, I wanted to write a very real recounting of my experiences with men of this nature and girls alike. I wanted to wait until I've received enough responses from my girlfriends but also until I think I've included every single time I've been sexually harassed. In all honesty, though, I don't think I'll ever be able to remember everything that has ever happened to me and due to the backlash I’ve received from family, friends, and strangers, this needs to be posted now.

What I'm about to tell you are things I've kept quiet and have only jokingly brought up to people in hopes that they'd tell me I wasn't wrong for thinking all these things were messed up. But no one ever did. And it took me years to realize that these things were messed up and were never my fault. I will start off mild and progress to more disturbing detailed events. I realize that for some of you, this will be uncomfortable to read and to others, paling in comparison to what has happened to you.

As an American, I am fully aware and comfortable with the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I know some of you will confront me privately and advise me to take this post down. I won’t. No matter what you tell me. Because I’ve remained mostly silent most of my adult female life, and if this is the type of man who could potentially be leading our country in just a few months, I need to speak up now. And I’m not afraid of who I offend in the process because I’ve suffered from these things in silence while you could sit idly by in blissful ignorance.

Here are just a few events that stick in my memory:
1. Just 2 nights ago, I went out drinking with friends. Over the course of about 30 minutes, 6 men grabbed my hips and began grinding behind me without my consent. This has happened anytime I've ever gone out dancing with friends. Meanwhile, I politely ask one attractive man if he was single and would like to dance with me.

2. Countless times while out at a bar, or even minding my own business walking down the street, I've been told that I must be a kinky girl because of my red hair. With special emphasis on the sexual acts that I must undoubtedly love to perform or have performed to me.

3. I had a guy that I've never met or talked to in my life grab me at the bar and pin me against the wall and began making out with me. I couldn't move and tried biting him to stop. Many people were around and no one stopped him.

4. After turning down men in any situation, I've been told that I'm deplorable, a slut, a pale bitch, that no man will ever love me, been forced into a hug or a kiss, etc.

5. When I was 15 working at a grocery store, there was a customer that would come into the store and stare at me until no customers were in my line. He'd then come through buying a single item to tell me something sexual. One time he saw me in multiple places in the store and said "you really get around don't you?" he proceeded to do this to multiple other women. Management never asked him to leave.

6. I was sexually harassed by not one, but two of my bosses. One would rub my inner thigh and massage my shoulders and kiss my head while calling me a sexy girl. The other would hit on me daily. I brought this up at the dinner table one night and the issue was dismissed because the man was an upstanding citizen in our town.

7. I was stalked for 2 weeks by a man that would wait for me at the same corner I walked by daily on my way to school. Everyday he'd follow behind me, eventually whispering sexual fantasies to me. After 2 weeks I told him to leave me alone. He then proceeded to chase me across the street into the school. No one offered help as I ran by with this man screaming behind me about how “no woman ever wants him”.

8. As I got out of my car after getting home, a man was walking down the sidewalk towards me so I smiled and nodded nicely. After I was past him, he said “ ’sup bitch” to me. I turned around and told him it was rude to call a girl a bitch and he proceeded to yell and tell me I’m a psycho emotional bitch and to calm the fuck down. I should be flattered he’s hitting on me.

9. During a study session with a friend, he began taking his clothes off out of nowhere and asked me to give him a blowjob. He told me I couldn't blame him for being curious since I willingly came to his room to study. After seeking out multiple rooms that were full of people, leaving only his room to study in.

10. Was told by a boyfriend while crying about the anniversary of my friend's death that I would feel better if I just stopped crying and had sex with him. I said no, he continued to take my clothes off.

11. A guy I was friends with was sleeping over at my apartment and was uncomfortable on the floor and asked if he could sleep in the bed with me. I said yes. He proceeded to feel me up against my continual requests for him to stop. I had to hide and lock myself in the bathroom for 2 hours before I came out. He was still in my bed waiting for me and didn't leave until a guy friend asked him to leave for me. While talking about this recently with a friend, she told me the same situation occurred to her. When she went to authorities about it, no one took her seriously and told her she was asking for it since she allowed him into her bed. He told her “I could rape you and you can’t even say it was rape.” He has raped multiple other women and they are all too scared to come forward about it. He is a free man still today that I see on dating apps all the time.

12. I ask girls constantly if they could count on their fingers and toes the number of times they’ve been sexually harassed. None of them can. It requires more than 20 phalanges.

I hope that at least one person reads this and can either relate, or have their mind changed about the rape culture that is so prominent in our society. The way Trump had so nonchalantly detailed that he could “grab a woman by her pussy” and “kiss her neck” without her saying no due to his status is disgusting. As a friend of mine so eloquently described, merely talking in this way about women perpetuates this rape culture because hearing men talk in this way makes young boys think it’s okay to perform these actions later in life.

Many of you use the argument that saying is different from doing. In a sense, you are not wrong. But hearing the same things stated over and over again in light regards, while men laugh and high five over it begins to set the belief that this is okay. Eventually these boys or men will act on these things, while some won’t and I get that. I am not generalizing the whole male race. In fact, all the men I find myself close friends with agree with what I’m saying. This is actually a huge disgrace and offensive to men as a whole who understand that women do not deserve or want to be treated in this way.

Many of you also use the argument that thousands, even millions, of women have purchased 50 shades of grey and read it with delight and envy. This is true, you are not wrong. The distinction that you are not aware of in this situation is that the character in this book is consenting to a very clearly laid out set of rules. This is a kink that many women and men find joy in and that is their own business. This is not the same as a stranger forcibly touching a woman he doesn’t know. No woman enjoys this. None.

Many of you have also said that women are not innocent to talking the way Trump had in private. Indeed, there are always exceptions to every rule. However, when I talk to my girlfriends about a man I find attractive, I do not go so far as to say “I could just grab him by the dick and fuck him if I want to. I wouldn’t even wait to do it. Because I’m an attractive, intelligent woman.” Instead, I say things like “he’s so hot, I’d love to see him without his shirt on. Oh the things I’d do!” If you can’t see the difference in these two statements, you need to do a tad bit of reading to understand why they’re different.

To those of you who have made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m open to whatever comments you may have. However, I will no longer feed into anyone defending Trump’s actions."

I find that in my own experience, making excuses for this kind of behavior is utterly reprehensible, and inexcusable. It dismisses the experiences of women and denies them basic human compassion and dignity. To attach this kind behavior to all men is an insult to any man who simply thinks that women should be treated like people instead of objects. To participate in, or justify this behavior is abhorrent and despicable. I won't say more, because her perspective is the important one, though I encourage others to share their views and stories as well.

I would also like to once again thank our guest contributor for her willingness to share!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

An Academic Journey: The First, Hard Steps

I know that I'm a little bit behind on this whole blog thing. I do have a good reason though: in the last 2 weeks I've had my first 2 exams as a PhD student, plus started my first lab rotation and written my first 2 papers, plus a problem set and a presentation. I guess you could say that things have been a little hectic, but honestly, it really just reminded me of how much I love the feeling of hating every single thing. 

That sounds like a weird way to put it, but even at my lowest I've always found something kind of comforting about being in that highly activate, stressed out zone. Not sleeping, or taking care of myself properly... stressing, rushing from thing to thing, and being constantly exhausted, frustrated, and a little sad... all of those things feel like home. I guess that's part of the life you sign up for in your PhD. You are pulled in all these different directions and expected to just handle it. Everyone is stressed, and I'm not sure if anyone if their first 4-5 years of it can ever actually say that they're completely happy. Not that they're unhappy with what they do or the choices they made, but it really isn't that easy. You're expected to learn a lot, on top of a lot of things you're kind of expected to know, no matter what your background is. You are constantly learning new skills, learning new jargon, reading technical articles about a wide variety of fields, and generally you are doing the things you want to do. That's the best part, honestly.

So my first rotation has been a little rough... I feel as if there wasn't enough of an introduction in these first couple of weeks to really make me feel involved with the project or the people. Part of this may just be me, but I'm not even 100% sure that I know everyone's name, and I definitely do not know half of what is going on, or why I'm doing half of what I'm getting trained to do. I'm vaguely aware that it has something to do with neural development, but there isn't a lot to be said for that when all I do is rotate between sitting in front of a cryostat for hours and doing immunostaining for hours.

Something weird, as a complete aside, is the amount of small downtime you get when you're running experiments. Let the thermocycler run, let your antibodies sit. Take the 40minutes to read a paper abstract, because this isn't your field of knowledge, so that's about as far as you'll get before the timer goes off and you have to rush to do 2minutes of work before waiting for another hour. It makes the day feel kind of wasted, because all of the free time you have is broken into these small morsels which are hard to really arrange anything into. I'm sure it is a skill which develops with time, but for now I feel like making that time productive is a real challenge. I know it's definitely an expectation.

Different people handle it differently. I definitely feel like the odd man out in my cohort, and I know some of the responsibility for that rests on me. I have very little motivation to get to know my cohort because we aren't really working on the same things, and also I'm already not exactly the overly friendly type. The few people I do regularly interact with are either professors, my wonderful roommates (the ones who are barely ever home and so essentially it's like living alone with part time ghosts) and the students I TA, who are not my friends. The social aspect, so far, is the biggest struggle for me. I know the classwork, I can learn the technical skills (and pretty quickly too, I may add) but I'll be damned if I have any urge to strike up a conversation with anyone on any topic that isn't necessary for me to perform my function as a PhD student. I don't feel involved, or like an assimilated member of the department. Again, once I'm in a lab full time working with a permanent PI, the rest will come and I'll get lost in my own little world. Each lab is a little clique, and when you're just rotating through, you and everyone else knows that you're just a transient visitor, helping them build their project in exchange for learning to do the things that they're doing. It's currently an exchange of goods and services. The unfortunate downside to that feeling is that it makes it hard to integrate yourself properly into a lab that feels nice. None of it feels especially welcoming, and I don't feel any warm feelings towards them... so I'm not sure how to successfully translate that into a permanent lab. I suppose we'll see.

Besides rotations, exams were very reasonable. A lot of repeat material, not even especially more in depth. Though, to be fair, I did already get my masters, so the classroom portion is definitely a review of a review of a review. I don't especially enjoy class, though I don't dislike them. Not having that many is pretty great, giving me way more time to focus on the technical learning that I really am excited for. I suppose the problem is how important they are to the first year, and how necessary it is to really maintain that high academic standard that is so arbitrary, especially given the way the material is tested. I suppose that begins to delve into issues of education, which I am utterly ill-equipped to speak on... so I won't. Still, don't underestimate the importance of the classroom, or the joy of being able to translate that knowledge into a tangible result in the lab. It's an absolutely great feeling and is essentially addicting. I want to do more sciencey things, all the time. I want to be immersed, and it feels like right now I'm just dipping my foot.

Finally, I want to touch on some issues that I see as very rampant in graduate education, which nobody really talks about: alcohol, and mental health issues. They bear discussing for many reasons. The obvious reason is their relationship to one another. Alcohol is often used to self-medicate, and it doesn't help that it is seen as the most common tool of socialization. From beer and wine at seminars, to journal clubs and lab meetings at bars and pubs, to graduate students socializing over alcohol, it's a part of graduate school culture that is almost essential to partake in on some level. It hardly ever gets acknowledged, though. The same with the mental health issues facing graduate students. There is a lot of pressure to present yourself as a smart, well-put-together individual who is doing what they love. This ignores the sacrifices you make to get to the program, the sacrifices you make to your time and relationships to focus on the program, and all of the stress and frustration which comes from dealing with failed experiments, the stress of studying, TAing courses, and trying to figure out the rest of your future. Anxiety and depression seem to be laughably common at the graduate level, but it's like some dirty little secret that nobody ever talks about. 

We need to, though.

These are things I will approach in more depth soon, because they're important topics. For now, let's suffice it to say that the good fight is being fought, and it is brutal and dumb at times, and oh-so-worth it, especially once you get that first taste of "Wow, I can really do this."

I can, and I will, and I wouldn't want it any other way!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Academic Journey: Trials of the TA

I want to start this by simultaneously thanking and apologizing to every single TA I had during my undergraduate education.

Tomorrow is my second day of TAing. I TA introductory genetics discussion, an hour and a quarter of going over whatever material he students are struggling with or want clarity on. I have three of these sessions in a row, every Thursday from 1pm-5pm, as well as exam proctoring. The students are mostly sophomores, with a smattering of upperclassmen. My first lecture, last week, was pretty rough and a little shaky. I talked way more than I'm probably supposed to, but I managed to not get stumped by a single question and therefore avoided looking completely stupid.

I hope.

There were some questions that were tough to answer. There was a lot of material that I wasn't 100% sure of, since I'm essentially learning the material a few days ahead of the students. I haven't taken a genetics course since I was an undergrad, sitting in that same exact room, so I understand their thought process and how little they actually give a crap about the sections I discuss. There were some questions asked that showed a complete absence of understanding of the material or major concepts. Some quiz answers missed the mark so badly I felt like I had failed that student. I constantly founnd myself having to rein in my own enthusiasm over topics that aren't relevant to their exams, and I really think that's noticeable: I caught myself going on little tangents here and there and did my best to nip them in the bud. I tried to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because I've been through it, and through grad school, and I'm back in grad school, so there is a lot of material I'm probably taking for granted that they really haven't been as deeply exposed to. It's tough to see them struggle with concepts that I take for granted as really self-evident.

But holy shit, when they get it, I feel like a hero.

I was grading quizzes, and I was a little disheartened sometimes. Some of it may have been bad questions on my part, which I did my best to remedy for this week. Some of it may have just been lack of exposure, or different emphasis from the professor than I got when I was learning the same material. Overall though, the grades were good. Everyone passed, which is always a good sign. Still, grading, in and of itself, was a chore. Writing quizzes? Chore. Inputting grades? Chore. Making notes for the next session, reading over their homework assignment to see what they'll ask, and generally trying to be prepared?


It's crazy how little credit non-teachers tend to give educators, and I think it bears repeating that wow... they do not do an easy job, and often they're overcoming weird hurdles you'd never even consider. Technology that isn't working properly or updated properly. A mismatch between the syllabus and the reasonable pace of teaching. Just the hassle of printing 80 copies of anything and then making sure it's all sorted out properly for multiple sessions, organized, and filed away properly afterwards. I did it for one day, for 4-ish hours, and already I have a new respect for my TAs, who did this while also studying and doing research or rotations. This isn't even to mention the full time professors, but hey,.. at least they make a living wage, unlike the lowly graduate students.

I was a little beat up, a lot tired, and questioning how fit I was to do this when my third session finished and I packed up for home. Mostly though, I was excited. It was so much fun. It felt really great to get through, even if it was just for my own sake. I'm excited for tomorrow, despite how exhausting the prep was and how much better all that time would have been if it had been spent on studying for my exams, or actually finishing the other requirements I have, like animal training modules.

Still, I think this is the beginning of something great for me. 

If you're going to do a program that requires you to TA, understand that it is NOT a walk in the park and you WILL be putting the hours in to it. I think most people who do it, though, develop a kind of affinity for it... a gentle affection of shared passion and at least feeling involved at the most basic levels of the fringes of shaping future minds. It's a thought that I find almost as comforting as the idea of research putting you at the cusp of human knowledge. It's a good feeling, and I think it will be a long, and totally worthwhile venture. Despite the cliche, I really do feel as if I'm learning just as much as they are from this... probably more, since my competency with the material is moderate at best.

If nothing else, I'll have great stories!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

An Academic Journey: First Week Survival

I survived my first week as a PhD student.

When I came into this, I figured that this wouldn't be much of a milestone. After all, I already went to grad school once, I kind of know how the whole thing works out. Then I had to fight to get my rotations sorted (which they are) and get my insurance paperwork done (it is) and do other little bits of paperwork and prep (which are thankfully all done now!). On top of that I even tried to be social and get to know some of the people in the labs I will be rotating in.

Anyway, with all of that, it was a little overwhelming, and my TA responsibilities haven't even really started. I wrote my quizzes for next week. I've been staying caught up on reading for my classes. Still not making friends, but since I'm really unmotivated to be friendly, I figure it isn't bad for that to take a little while to happen. I mean sure, we're all in this together, but I'm not entirely here to make friends. (That statement is separate from anything resembling networking, which is such an absolute necessity that I weep deeply for my aversion to socialization. Networking, for me, is essentially faking the sociability until you make it.)

On top of all that, I've even attended some extra talks and signed up for my first conference AND to meet some guest speakers for lunch after their talks. Trying to stay on the ball is exhausting, and I worry that all of the time that I took off after my masters has put me at a disadvantage. I guess I was aware of that going in. I feel like I have to relearn and refresh a bunch of skills related to studying and time management, and I haven't had to start teaching or grading or doing office hours yet, so we know it will only get worse from here. 

Still, I made it through the first week. That's something! I know this update is pretty short, but trust me,once I start TAing and rotating things will get better. For reference, I get to TA 3 sections of a genetics discussion (all on Thursday) and I will be rotating in the following labs: a developmental neurolab, an electrophysiology neurolab, and a cancer bio lab looking at p53. These are in order, so I'll be getting my hands dirty in a dev-neurolab first, and I like the PI and the people and am really looking forward to getting started there sometime next week as well! Looking at this, it seems like week 2 will be the real metric of misery, but I'm looking forward to the challenge and sadness of it all.

The thing is, I've been thinking a lot about the things that are sacrificed to do a PhD program. I've had to fight administration to get my paperwork done (including having paperwork lost twice and SHREDDED twice). I've had to deal with the differing approaches to rotations from prospective PIs I had spoken to. I moved here with nothing but a carry on full of clothes, and with the exception of some generous donations from a former mentor, that's still all I have. A weeks worth of clothes, a futon older than I am, and a backpack so old it still has a cellphone holder for the old nokia cellphones. My 5 year old phone and 7 year old laptop are dying and will need to be replaced. I still have an outrageous amount of fees to pay the school (because fully funded doesn't mean that at all). I don't think that's much different from any other grad student, really. Moving is expensive. Living is expensive. Being a student? Expensive.

That's not why we do it though. We do it for love, for passion, for curiosity. We're not in it for the  money, we're in it for the love of knowledge, the love of curiosity, the love of truth. Which is good, because PhD students make shit for money, and if you were already poor like me, then you're really making a decision that may very well see your health suffer. Not to mention your mental health, bank account, and relationships. Those all suffer, and will have to adjust. I'm lonely and tired already, and it's just the first week, and I have another 6 years to look forward to of this, though it will likely balance itself out and get a little easier. I look forward to that, but at the same time, I made this choice. I chose the stress, and the isolation. I chose to put this thing I love first, and though it may be premature, I'm happy that I did.

I'll see you all on the far side of teaching, and I'll probably have way more to say!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Academic Journey: Arrival

I arrived in town after two pretty average flights that were uneventful and uninteresting. I connected with my roommates and made my way back to our new house, to unpack my single carry on suitcase full of clothes and settled into my essentially-empty room to get comfortable on the floor I would be sleeping on for the foreseeable future. Not exactly the most glamorous life, I suppose, but it isn't the first time, and I don't think it will be the last. I went through the same things with my masters, living at subsistence levels, because that's essentially what graduate school is: being broke, stressed, hungry, and miserable. (And paying for the privilege) Experiences may vary, but probably not by much, and definitely not for any of my grad student friends and colleagues. 

So of course, because I was here before, for my undergraduate work, and I worked here for 3 years, I'm still fairly familiar with the campus and how things work there, even if a lot of the faces have changed. I did some exploring of the new layouts and buildings, caught up with a couple friends, got my brand new student ID card, and then we entered today!

Today was spent in the kind of jumbled back and forth impromptu meetings you'd expect from a sitcom, I met with four different professors 6 different times, in 2 different buildings, all just to... not really get any answers to my questions or really make any tangible progress. Combine that with the insane level of e-mails and the raw stacks of paperwork before classes even start, and it's essentially already exhausting. Let's not forget the mile walks each way to/from campus, which isn't so bad or along walk, but still a pain. Especially in this heat.

The thing is, the hardest part of every academic adventure I've started has always been administrative crap. Paperwork on top of paperwork, in a bed of emails, letters, and meetings. It is the nature of the beast that something is always getting messed up. This time around, it was seeing that my paperwork was initially misplaced, then the replacement copies I sent were accidentally shredded. They initially tried to charge me for my student ID because I was still in the system from my undergrad days, which thankfully was quickly sorted out. Today, I discovered that the university email system had failed to send my TA assignment information when it was originally sent to us, the insurance paperwork was all messed up, AND the awesome tuition stipend of my program doesn't cover the $500-or-so in EXTRA fees that probably can't be waived, because public research institutions are still a business first. Let's also not forget the ridiculous cost of applying for graduate schools (I spent $1500 on PhD program applications, and probably half that on masters applications after undergrad.). This cost is in addition to moving, finding a place to live, and paying for all of your normal expenses. Attending graduate school, even a funded program, is a ridiculously expensive prospect that requires dedication to the field and the craft that transcends your rational desires to be able to feed, clothe, and house yourself. If you're curious as to what that looks like, I'll leave you with this pleasant anecdote of the fact that I only had a bed to sleep on for half of the last 3 years, and that I lost close to 30lbs in 9 months because I couldn't afford to feed myself AND stay not homeless. This hasn't changed, and I'm still super stressed about the financial gymnastics required to maintain some semblance of human dignity while also balancing work and school. Forget about any dreams of a social life, I gave up on that long ago.

That's the thing: it is completely stupid to me that the hardest parts of higher education have almost nothing to do with actually getting the education. Applications are based on volume of output and how well you can sell your strengths and flaws, and each one costs enough money that quickly builds up. (Typically between $60-$80 from schools I applied to, and most won't waive that fee). Moving and financing and keeping your ahead above water are, a least for me, infinitely more stressful than exams and the thought of completely learning new skills. I've done graduate courses. I've done accelerated graduate work at a rather prestigious institution. I am not concerned about that. I'm concerned about the insistence that poorly paid students who are already in debt, magically come up with a few hundred (or thousand) dollars and the mental fortitude to repeatedly jump through the fiery rings of administrative idiocracy. 

All for the privilege of adding academic and professional pressures to their financial woes, all of which are generated nearly entirely by higher education.

I will obviously touch on the mental health aspects of this more later, but I still have a metric shit ton of emails to send (which I'm sure is the SI unit for emails) and then I'm going to eat the dinner I honestly can't afford to have bought while I lay on the empty wooden floor which is my bed and pretend that this was a completely good idea. After all, half the battle is fooling yourself enough to convince yourself the pain is worth it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

An Academic Journey: Beginnings

So here we are, a few days before my flight leaves for New York so I can spend the next few years working on my next degree: a PhD in biology. This is something I want to share with the world, the whole journey, from start to finish. The thing is, I don't consider this the beginning. I spent a lot of time working towards this. I got my bachelors (from the same institution I'm going back to for my PhD) and then went and got a masters, and those events were all stepping stones to this. I have a hard time seeing them as independent events, because they were always considered part of a different end product. To that end, this isn't my first move or my first struggle to find housing or pay for the non-education related costs of going to grad school. It isn't even my first time waiting a long time to accomplish a goal, although I do think the process from my masters to now was one of the most frustrating and disheartening times in my life.

I got through it, though.

So, what I learned before, is that it is almost essential to have people around you when you start grad school. Friends, or family. Anyone, really. No matter how good you were at things before, you are going to have a tough time. I made the mistake, in my masters, of thinking I could handle it all alone, in a strange place surrounded by strangers, doing hard work which I had probably underestimated. There are some days when I'm still not sure if it was actually a mistake, but whatever... I got through it, and the experience I had was something I'm grateful for,even if it isn't for the reasons I had hoped to be grateful for it.

So here I am, not really packed, stressed about bills and classwork, and rotations and teaching, and I don't start for almost 2 weeks. You know what's cool about it though?

I'm excited.

Seriously. It was a risk. I considered this process a long shot. I hoarded rejection letters from programs for two whole years before I got this yes. It was a weird two years of extensive job searching and moving to a new state (again) and it was a nice (unintentional) break from academia. Now, I think, I'm as prepared as I'll ever be for this.

So now that you've got the sob story, let's get into the details! The program is funded through a Teaching Assistantship, so I get to teach a lab or class for a few years. I also do rotations first year (2 or 3) in order to find a lab/PI to work with for the duration of my doctoral work. First year is undifferentiated curriculum leading to a qualifying exam to test knowledge of the topic areas, and year 2/3 is another qualifying exam based on an oral presentation/defense of a research proposal/grant. Obviously, these will be things which I will tackle in greater detail as they approach.

I guess the biggest thing now, is going to be just getting there. The positive part is that I've been there before, so I know a lot of the names and faces. Another huge positive is that I happen to not only know quite a few people there (including fellow PhD students at other local unis or in different departments) but I'll also be living with some good friends. So we'll get to see how big of a difference having a solid support system around will make in this process. I also have the benefit of experience: I sat through a rather intensive graduate program that had me do 72 graduate level credit hours in 9 months, so I know all about that life.

So here is to my new beginning, which I will gladly share with you. Expect some complaining (whining), and maybe some personal tips and tricks, and probably a lot more talking out of my ass about stuff. I'll try to be as candid and forthright as I can, and I'll even keep the cussing to a minimum (unless I get carried away). Also, I suspect that I will still intersperse the Academic Journey series of blogs with shitty poetry and bad short stories, and maybe the occasional rant. We can't all be perfect.

As always, thank you for reading! I look forward to sharing this experience with you all!

Friday, July 22, 2016

An Idiot's Guide to Okay-ish Writing

I'm a writer in the same sense that I'm a poet, or musician, or decent human being: it's a hobby, I'm not very good at it,and I don't even always enjoy doing it, and when I do, I avoid doing it in public. I don't publish anything, I barely let anyone else read what I write, minus some trash poetry, and I'm pretty much super unqualified to give any advice on the topic.

Which has never stopped me before, so I won't start now. Here are some of my favorite, potentially contradictory, bits of advice, learned through many hard years of not doing creative writing and generally being terrible at it!

-Do enough research to make it believable to the average reader, but not so much that it becomes a manual. There is a balance to be had between making it up and lecturing on the finer points of machinery, science, or any specialized field of knowledge. Just remember: Believable science always trumps incomprehensible gibberish

-Minutiae and world building are always secondary to the story. Sure, you may want to spend 30 pages describing the alien circulatory system, or try to give a valid biological explanation for dragons and zombies, but your time is better spent elsewhere. At the same time, preemptively offer explanations where appropriate, because people will ask. Bonus points if you can include it as valid progression without being ham-fisted

-When all else fails, make it up. Never underestimate the power of winging it.

-Good characters, good story, good writing. If you manage 2 of those, you’re lucky, but it only takes one to involve the reader, so don’t worry too much

-Start small. A line, a phrase, a visual image. Write a paragraph or a page. Take the time to feel out what you’re writing

-Write what you know. This includes your vocabulary, technical details, activities, action, and dialogues. It even includes basing characters off of people you know, loosely or very accurately. Sometimes it's cathartic to kill that asshole Steve, from work, in your writing... even if it's as Steef, the impotent, horribly disfigured slime goblin being mercilessly immolated by a clumsy sorcerer or eaten alive by tiny fecal parasites

-Art imitates life, after all. Or some equally pseudo-profound crap. Use your experiences like a toolbox, to shape your end product

-A cliché can be as telling to a reader as upsetting a cliché can be. Don’t be afraid to use a trope, just be afraid of using it poorly.

-If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If you can’t join ‘em, call it satire and write it anyway.

-When you can’t find a way, magic is a weak excuse. Just remember that a weak excuse is better than no excuse

-Telling CAN be as good as showing, if you tell it right

-Never be afraid to kill a character, or add a twist to advance the plot. Never do it just to be edgy

-If the story gets stuck, write the next bit you’re sure of, then come back. Sometimes it helps to work backwards

-The line between thorough and pompous is as thin as the line between accessible and dry.

-Finish what you start, even if it’s awful. Even if you hate it, you’ll feel better that it’s finished

-Never be afraid to cannibalize a good idea from a bad piece so that it can live on in an overall better bit of writing

-Learning to take good advice is just as important as learning to ignore bad advice. The same goes for criticism. Some people are helpful, some are just assholes.

-Accept that your vision will change, and the story may very well end up as something totally different than what you wanted to write. Sometimes, you’ll love it even more for that

-People will love the things that you write and hate, don’t disparage their interest or support

-Unless you’re writing technically in a field-specific professional way, avoid using jargon that isn’t commonplace. Same goes for clumsy, clunky, unnatural dialogue

-Everyone has flaws. That includes your characters, and the person writing them. Just remember that you’re better off being harsh to your creations than to yourself

-If it rhymes, and it isn’t for children, you’re doing it wrong

-Don’t be afraid to walk away and work on something else if you get stuck. You can come back later with fresh eyes

-Your twists and hints are never as subtle as you think they are, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to make them that way.

-Realism in writing has its place, but when in doubt, defer to the story

-If you don’t know, ask. If you’re too lazy to ask, lie convincingly.

-Sex scenes make great page filler, even if they’re marginally out of place in the genre. On the other hand, it’s quite obvious when your smut is just there to fill the quota. But if it’s good smut, people will give you a pass

-Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Homage is just a fancy way of saying you borrowed our ideas. It’s also an easy way to build a framework. Just don’t lose sight of the line between imitation and plagiarism. It’s alright to stand on the shoulders of giants to see further, but the goal should always be to add your own perspective

-Your villain should have the same depth as your protagonist. Save the "evil for evil's sake" for high ranking henchmen and lawyers

-Chances are, your ideas are just a re-imagining, reboot, or other term for resurrection of a previous work or idea that is fairly well known. So own it. It’s just as easy (or difficult) to give an old idea new wings as it is to develop something truly novel (see what I did there?), especially in writing. 

-People have been making stories since before recorded history. It’s not about whether or not you did it first, or did it best, but about doing it your way

-Write for you first, the audience second. If you’re not into it, it shows

-You can paint a picture with words, but sometimes it will be a finger painting. Sometimes it’s bad. Really bad. Own it.  Practice makes perfect

-You can let your readers do some of the work. Leave some wiggle room for imagination. This also lets you be a little lazy, so everyone wins

-You’ll be tempted to explain your reasoning to your readers; don’t. Especially in poetry, the interpretation counts more than the intent. Even (especially) if the interpretations are stupid or wrong

-For readers as much as writers: not everything needs to be symbolic or thematic. Sometimes the curtains are just blue. Sometimes the protagonist has eggs for breakfast.

-Never end on a cliffhanger. It’s a book, not a crappy TV show.

-Don’t let editing get in the way of writing. Also, don’t give in to the temptation to over-edit. You may not say it right the first time, but chances are you haven’t said it much better the 8th or 9th edit through.

-If the reader is happy, then you’re still probably unhappy, because you’re your own worst critique. We all are. Your feelings aren’t a determining factor of quality

-Establish your style, then work at expanding it. Sometimes a story is more effective when told a different way, and you’ll need to get comfortable with putting the story before your own process or at the very least, expand your reach

-Inspiration strikes at weird times. Scribble the ideas down. Text them to a friend. Email them to yourself. Stay up way later than you should.

-Write when you can, even when you don't want to

-Rewriting a line, page, or paragraph 87 times will happen. Just remember that you can save the nitpicking for editing

-Character and location names are important in your setting. Stupid or overly cliche one swill be remembered. We get it, he's a bad guy, you don't have to name him Caine Alucard VonHitlerDarkness. 

-Editing is more than grammar and spelling. Edit for clarity, for flow, for logical story progression, and continuity. Nobody cares if your spelling is impeccable and your grasp of syntax is superb, if your story is a useless, jumbled mess

-Write what makes you happy, what reaches you. Chances are, someone will have a reaction to it, and the reaction (good or bad) is what matters

-Making up languages and words is all well and good, but forego the Lovecraftian approach and make them pronounceable 

-It’s alright to write the same thing, multiple ways. Reuse characters in unrelated works, reuse names and concepts and plot lines. Tackle the same problems in different ways, or the same way in different worlds. Work with it until it sticks

-A second set of eyes is always helpful in finding flaws, errors, and inconsistencies. The more eyes reading, the more helpful it can be. Chances are, if they don’t get something, there are others who won’t either

-Those who can’t write, write poetry. Which is still better than not writing at all.

And there it is, a little bit of playful support for all of my fellow writers. Obviously this refers mainly to works of fiction, and a little bit to poetry, but if it helps with your dense academic writing, more power to you! Also, yay me for this not being a poem! Feel free to leave your own bits of advice!