Real Talk: Research, Midterms, and Vulnerability

This week, it hits us.

The Sunday before midterms: the Lewis Library Tree House, my favorite study spot, is packed.
The Sunday before midterms: the Lewis Library Tree House, my favorite study spot, is packed.

Fall midterms creep up on me every year. Like the steady accumulation of unfolded laundry in my closet, and the growing pile of readings on my desk, midterms approach incrementally – and then they pounce.

I’m trying to practice honesty, which is sometimes harder than it sounds. So, here’s some real talk: this week is a struggle.

On top of the commotion of midterm exams and assignments, I have other, more long-term responsibilities that need attention: beginning background reading for a final project; meeting with my adviser to discuss future research plans; and tackling the freezer full of summer samples that sit on my conscience, unanalyzed. During weeks like this one, staying on top of such tasks overwhelms me more than anything. They incur the deep, gnawing fear that perhaps, this time, I’ve really bit off more than I can chew.

I said I was practicing honesty, right?

My to-do list this week. I find it helpful to see everything on one page - and to have the gratification of checking off the little circles
My to-do list this week. I find it calming to see everything on one page…sometimes.

I don’t have encouragement, tips, or success stories to offer this week. But I do have honesty and some reassurance: if balancing school, research, extracurriculars, and sanity seems, this week and others, near impossible – I agree.

Why is research so hard? Perhaps because it forces us to confront the unknown. We deliberately embrace questions we don’t have the answer to, and which we often don’t even know how to approach. In doubting our assumptions as part of the research process, we end up also doubting ourselves. Is this the right project? The right approach? Can I do this, along with everything else, right now?

This week, when I’m not cramming – or, more importantly, when I am – I try to remember that these challenges are my choice. Midterms week isn’t fun – but it is incredibly valuable. And when exams and research and the pressures of life are daunting, I try to remind myself that these experiences are teaching me to take the hard first steps, and to have confidence even in the face of the unknown.

Zoe Sims, Natural Sciences Correspondent