Coming Back from Break

Coming back from break, setting goals and finding motivation

I took about 2 weeks off for winter break and flew back home to Texas to see my family and some friends. I had my monthly one on one meeting with my advisor the week I left and we talked about goals for the break among other things. He asked everyone to set specific, measurable goals for what they wanted to accomplish over break while also stressing that everyone should take a BREAK. In my head, I was going to use my 2 weeks to focus on reading and doing some research and benchmarking in order to get a clear direction for my research for the Spring semester. I knew the topics I needed to read about and the information I needed to find so I could develop a plan for the Spring semester. In the past I’ve been really good about using my breaks to get organized, seeing it as an opportunity to do all the planning that gets pushed aside during a busy semester. I had a great plan, but honestly, I didn’t really do any of it… 

At home in Austin for winter break

I slept in, saw friends, went shopping, did some work on SHE engineered and ran with my parents a few times, but I didn’t have the normal drive and organization I had in undergrad. Though I’m grateful to be able to take a break, I feel like I lost some momentum. I also feel like I don’t have a crystal clear goal like I used to. For the last 2 years of my undergrad, I was so clear on the fact that I wanted to go to grad school. Everything I did worked towards that and when I felt unmotivated I could focus on this very clear goal. I realized over the break and after coming back to school that starting grad school is very much like starting undergrad. 

You know you want to be an engineer but you don’t really know what that means. 

You know you want to be a PhD but you don’t really know what that means.

Though I have goals around what my life looks like, and it’s very clear that engineering and working in a research environment are part of that, I don’t have the dream job, dream company or dream location set in my mind. When I think “I could work a little more and get ahead or I can get some extra sleep”,  I don’t have the same determination I did when I had a clear, big, specific goal. I didn’t realize how much starting grad school could feel like starting over.

Though I still don’t have that clear goal in mind, I’ve come up with a plan to try and get out of this “post-break / starting over” funk. This semester I’m going to try to read more about current influential female engineers and the work they are doing. I want to watch interviews, learn about what they do in their roles. I think that by learning more and getting inspired by these women I will be able to better define what I am working towards. 

I’m also not planning to let this time of figuring out what I want slow me down. I’m going to continue doing my BEST work, applying for scholarships and awards, getting more involved in organizations and continue working in outreach. I want to have built myself and my resume up as much as possible so I am prepared to go after my goal once I have it. 

When I started school in August I assumed I would come in with the same drive and determination I’d always had, but after accomplishing the only really big goal I’d set and then taking 8 months off that just wasn’t the case. Though I’d felt “off” It wasn’t until coming back after the break that I realized I needed to set another big, scary and clear long term goal. I thought that the goal of working in industry after graduation and then eventually being a professor was specific enough but it just wasn’t. If you started grad school knowing exactly what you wanted to do afterward that is amazing! If not, try to surround yourself with the people and inspiration you need to figure that out. 

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