What does a "successful" grad student look like?
It is so easy to feel like a failure as a grad student because of the socially standardized criteria set for the behavior of a "successful" grad student. Typically, a grad student in a basic science lab like mine is supposed to be in the lab every waking minute of your life. You should eat, breathe, and dream lab. Your science, your physical presence in the lab is the ONLY thing you should concern yourself with while in grad school. There are Principal Investigators (PIs) that will REFUSE to have you in their labs, REFUSE to train you if you are unable to dedicate your soul to them.
There are those who think this is how it should be. Demanding your grad students dedicate every waking minute to their experiments in exchange for $27,000-30,000 a year is reasonable. Is it? Is it reasonable to require graduate students be in lab from 8am-8pm seven days a week and occasionally spend the night in the lab to do experiments at midnight or 1 am or 2 am? I don't know the answer. I am not a PI. But if you ask me, I know plenty of people my age who choose to get jobs, work fewer hours, and make way more than I do now.
What I AM is a grad student who is a mom, a wife, and suffering from chronic illnesses. Did I enter into grad school in 2012 as all 3 of these? No. I was just a mom. Becoming a wife was not a detriment to my grad career but being a sick person did.
I can no longer fit into the standard grad student mold. I cannot spend every waking minute running experiments. I physically can't. Sometimes I am too exhausted to attend guest lectures or participate in discussion with my peers. Hence, I feel like a failure. I feel like I don't belong. Like I should quit, move aside, and make space for someone who can physically do the things I can. I have been fortunate enough to be awarded two separate fellowships at the beginning of my grad career which has lasted me until now.
Should I quit because I move slower than others? Should I give up everything I worked so hard for because I was unfortunate enough to get sick? I got my Masters degree in neuroscience, why continue to fight for my Ph.D.?
I am not entirely sure of the answer to those questions. What I do know is that I woke up this morning and felt terrible. Joint pain, inflammation, and so on. But I sat up in bed, grabbed my laptop, and decided I was going to be as productive as possible.