My life as a graduate student began almost five years ago, in 2011, when I started a Master’s in Music Performance at IU. I remember that back then, when my family and friends asked me about how long I thought my studies were going to take, I said that they would probably last just two years. I was so wrong. I ended up staying one more year doing a Performer Diploma; later, I spent a year working before resuming my graduate studies, but this time as a PhD student at IU.
As I started a new degree in the Music Education Department, I felt more confident about managing the stress and my life as a graduate student. I was determined to succeed in my new endeavor. I thought I had enough skills to carry out this new project. Skills such as time management, healthy eating habits, and self discipline. I wanted to accomplish every single thing I had in mind for my new stage in life. Having all those skills tuned up proved not to be quite true either.
My first semester in grad school was really tough…. Financial problems, a lack of background in the field, language barriers, feelings of not being good enough for the program invaded my mind. And, as if all that had not been enough, I had the unfortunate experience of losing someone in my close family: my niece, the daughter of my sister, who was just 16 years old, passed away in terrible car accident in my native country, Mexico.
This was a tragedy that, obviously, nobody expects. I remember being at home, here in Bloomington, with my girlfriend; at last, watching a TV show that I had promised her we would watch together as a way to spend time out of all the responsibilities from school and work. I even put my all my devices away to make sure that nothing would get me distracted from “relaxing-time.” After some minutes, I heard the phone ringing. It was a text message, but I did not read it. Then, I heard someone calling, and I did the same thing: ignored it. Finally, I had to stand up to pour more water in my cup. I read the notifications on my phone. Then, I found about the terrible news in a message from my brother: my niece had died.
I could not believe it. I did not know what to do. I talked to my girlfriend and she was also in shock. I called a friend to ask her for advice about how to manage my problem with all the faculty members, as I was preparing to go to the airport to be with my sister and family. After hearing the news my friend could no believe how stressed and concerned I was about my professors’ reactions in regards to me leaving the country in the middle of the semester. She finally recommended calming down and writing them an email. So, I did. I explained I had to leave immediately and, almost immediately too, received responses from virtually all my professors saying, “of course, you have to be with your family”
I flew back and went to bury my beloved niece, Laura.
As I recall this tragedy in my life and share it here with you, the reader, I would like you to remember, that above all the things going on, we are still plain human beings. We are not machines. We cannot and should not separate our mental and emotional health from “graduate health.” It is ok to feel that you are not doing well, that you are making mistakes. It is ok to acknowledge your vulnerability. And please, remember that you are not the only one going through the same thing. These feelings are very common in graduate students and they won’t last forever. Reach out, talk to others, including your advisors. They are people too. They will understand because they have to.
Graduate school won’t last forever anyway. No matter how endless this road looks, it has an end. So, we better keep going.