3 grad school lessons in 3.1 miles

Two weeks ago, Josh Rosenberg and I ran in the Capital City River Run 5k here in Lansing. Because drawing comparisons is something that academics do, I told Josh shortly after the race that I would probably end up blogging about how the 5k was a metaphor for grad school. Here’s that post now!

1: Habits and practice realize potential.

I come from a family of runners and have often felt like the odd one out. Even though we share a common background and common genes, there was a long time where it was easy to feel like my half-marathoning mom, my triathlete dad, my regularly running brother and sister, and the cross-country champion Greenhalgh triplets had always been destined to run and I’d just somehow missed out. As I started regularly running (instead of regularly thinking about running) and talking to runners (instead of sheepishly avoiding the subject), I began to realize that it’s less about being pre-destined for running as it is about doing the work to realize one’s running potential.

I think the same is true of grad school–it’s ultimately our habits and our practice (and not so much being “cut out for” it) that realizes our potential and leads to success.

2: Work with people who support (and push!) you.

I struggled for a long time to turn running into a habit, but things got a lot easier this summer when an MSU professor I attend church with asked if I would start running with him; we were both helping his former running partner move out of the Lansing area, so he was looking for someone to join him on morning runs. This has been a fantastic experience! Having someone around to get me to keep getting up in the morning and keep improving my time has been critical for turning running into a real habit. Doing the 5k with Josh was a similar experience: There were a few minutes at the end of the race where I wasn’t running so much as trying to keep up with Josh. Without someone to run with, I probably would not have seen the results I did.

While this is the first time I’ve ever run with Josh, we’ve worked together in a number of research and teaching situations, and I’ve found it to be just as helpful. It’s important in grad school to find faculty and fellow grad students who are willing to work with you, to get you up in the morning, and to push you to new limits.

3: You’re going to do great!

Josh and I set a goal for a particular pace before running this race, and if I were any good at setting goals in my academic life, this point would be all about the importance and value of goals. Since I’m not that good about setting goals, though, it’s going to be about how things often go better than we expect. Our 5k goal was a pace that would be a fair amount of work for both of us, so we were surprised and delighted at the end of the race to find that we’d done even better than I had dared to hope for!

Grad school is tough, and, like a 5k, there are times where you’d rather just collapse, crawl off to the side, give up, and maybe even die than keep going. Chances are, though, that you’re doing better than you think you are! Just keep up the good work (and don’t be afraid to slow down if you need to), and you’ll have some results that you can be proud of.

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