The last Monday of August 2014, shortly before autumn shows its colors across campus, was my first day of classes at CU Boulder. My backpack was packed with enthusiasm and curiosity and my schedule was filled with different commitments whether as a graduate student, teaching assistant or research assistant. Everything seemed to be mapped out to start this new challenge but there were no rules of success written anywhere. As a typical procedure, I started to make a spreadsheet and listed my different daily activities. Yet, the possibility of missing something or taking detours with even dead ends seemed very likely.
During my first year at CU Boulder, the classic weekly schedule unfolded in at least 25 hours inside a classroom or meeting room followed by venturesome pretentions of studying for my classes and doing research on my own at home. My responsibilities looked as tall as the Boulder mountains, called the Flatirons. These responsibilities were: studying for my three enrolled Engineering courses, teaching and holding office hours as a teaching assistant and working on my research assistant tasks for a National Science Foundation (NSF) project which my advisor recruited me to participate in. Among other crags of different sizes, I also needed to attend an English mandatory course for foreign teaching assistants and the main lectures of the course that I was assisting. As it is hard to miss the Flatirons almost from any point in Boulder, I could see my three graduate summits everywhere, anytime.
Sooner rather than later, I knew that to deal effectively with such a load I must be held accountable and my organization skills could chip away at the fear to do everything at once. Slowly, but systematically, I became more vigilant about my working hours, cutting down some unnecessary meetings and tried to focus more on what really mattered every day.
While classes resumed their course, I started feeling more comfortable doings my homework, teaching my classes and presenting my research progress. The path of pursuing a PhD degree took a meaning of perseverance, heartiness and dedication. Despite the long hours of work, the fervidness for doing what you love helped me climb some of the rugged peaks of graduate school. Good attitude is always the key and this path cannot be an exception. We all, as graduate students, face limits and endless work schedules but as my mother has always said: life is all about priorities. Sometimes a great way to find middle ground is to learn where and when to focus your attention. Make some time limits and stick to them, but everyone has his own way to get work done so you will find yours.
In my personal case, I found this path to be as challenging as it was rewarding. I learned way more than a classroom can teach. As an engineer, I am someone who embraces knowledge by real facts and evidences, and that is what graduate school teaches you in every course. Likewise, knowing about countless cultures could have never been possible without this memorable experience at CU Boulder. This has reinforced in me that as you invest in your education, you must devote time to yourself as well as your community around you – people in your department or others, your students, and classmates from your same or more advanced level. These become your closest friends in graduate school and provide you invaluable support through the years. Those who you work hard with and celebrate the progress with. Building a community can be your academic pedestal and ensure you a successful and balanced life.