There are certain moments from grad school that will always stick with me: the conference in Boston where my usually quiet lab mate opened up to me; the nights I spent drinking cheap beer with my closest friends in the grungy, student-run bar; the time (okay, times) I cried in my advisor’s office. And you can be sure that I won’t ever forget my general exams, whose residual panic-inducing effects I can still feel, months later.
I value these memories because they add texture to my life as a graduate student, providing joy or throwing it into relief.
But I’ve also had experiences that extend beyond the normal ups and downs. I listened, trying not to cry, as a professor told me that I was too slow to do theoretical work. (A year later, I won an NSF grant to do just that.) I gritted my teeth as I, the only woman in the room, was asked to sort exams into piles, while my male colleagues graded them. These experiences didn’t make me stronger, happier, more resilient, or more confident. They just wore away at my well-being.
Learning to survive graduate school as a woman in STEM—or any minority, for that matter—means finding ways to manage the effects of constant, subtle antagonism, because that antagonism won’t make you a better scientist, mathematician, or engineer.
Here are seven things that will.
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