“Research is life” isn’t always the way to go

At one of our EUREKA events, we spoke with a panel of grad students about their experiences in academia, and what stood out to me the most was how they all struggled with a research-life balance and “burning out.” I was introduced to this phenomenon this summer, and was actually a bit surprised (and relieved) to hear that they had this problem too.

Full-time research was a significant change from research doing the school year because I didn’t have classes, studying, dance, etc. to divert my attention elsewhere. I snapped back and forth between spending all day at lab and continuing work at home or not working on anything at home and then feeling as though I had wasted all my time. It wasn’t until the last few weeks of the internship that I felt as though I found a happy medium, and it was very much a trial and error process, going something like this: “Wow, I feel emotionally exhausted this week; better change some stuff up.” and later “Wow, I feel like I wasted all of my time out of lab; better change some stuff up.” and again “Wow, I feel…” (You get the idea). So probably not the best way to go about finding balance.

Making a clearer work schedule probably would have been helpful, making sure that I spent set amounts of time doing work outside of lab. I found that making plans to actually go somewhere and do something (beyond going to the couch to watch “Game of Thrones”) was helpful. It ensured that I spent some time away from research-related activities while also making me feel like I was keeping busy (although a day of doing nothing was also nice every once in a while).

The trial and error process was pretty rough sailing, but it was perhaps the one of the most valuable experience of this internship. It tested my commitment to research (haven’t we all had the “Am I cut out for this?” moment?) and made me more confident in my ability to accept failure and persist.

How a Marine Bio Hopeful Found Herself Working with Parasites

I had come to UCSB with grand plans for marine biology research but flash forward one year, and I’m working in the Parasite Ecology Lab, in a field I had never even considered. In fact, when I was visiting UCSB and a student told me about the parasitology class, my answer was along the lines of, “Parasites? Gross!” And I held to that belief until about the first week of college. I was attending a seminar in the EEMB department, and I was definitely out of my depth, extremely fascinated, and somewhat in awe. While I remember these emotions perfectly, I couldn’t name a single presentation I saw that day, save one. Dr. Armand Kuris gave a talk about using the parasites found in oarfish to determine where this fish lies on the food web. By tracking the life stages of a parasite in different hosts – say oarfish and whale – you could tell which host was eating another host. I had never heard of any parasite research beyond public health, and I had never considered that it could be tied to ecology. I was so fascinated that I had to tell this professor how much I enjoyed his presentation and how exciting I found this research. Apparently, this first conversation went much better than I thought, though I didn’t have much to contribute besides, “That research seems so cool!” (hopefully in a more academic way, but I was nerding out quite a bit). A week later I was offered a position in this professor’s lab. I jumped at the opportunity and have been on that track ever since.

Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing now if I had never gone to that seminar or voiced my opinion on Armand’s research. Perhaps I would be doing something more marine bio focused, but I might also be the same person who reacted with “Parasites? Gross!”