Graduate Student Voices in the News

Jan 21, 2021
In the News
Essays by graduate students Arundhati Deshmukh and Xiaofei “Fay” Lin are featured in C&EN article about the chemistry graduate school experience.
According to Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) editor Linda Wang, the magazine runs a new essay every month and welcomes submissions from all graduate students. Students can send an essay of roughly 250 words about an issue they face, or an experience they've had, to Wang also encourages graduate students to sign up for the C&EN's Grad Student Survival Guide, an 8-week newsletter series with relatable stories and essential advice for grad students written by grad students. Lin is one of the contributors to the newsletter. For more information, and instructions on how to sign up, click here
Excerpted from Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) by Linda Wang and Celia Henry Arnaud:
Grad school, in students' own words
Chemistry grad students share their diverse experiences
by Arundhati Deshmukh, University of California, Los Angeles, 5th year
On the first day of graduate school, I had been in the US for exactly 4 days. I left my family, friends, and my home country behind and flew across the globe from Mumbai to Los Angeles. All on my own in a new country, I was naturally anxious, but also excited for this new chapter of my life.
Consumed with the pressures that come with the first year of graduate school, I began to believe that I was not as accomplished as others around me and would not survive here. It soon evolved into a lack of confidence like I had never experienced before. Although I did not recognize it at the time, I was going through imposter syndrome.
Fortunately, my peers and mentors helped me realize that I was not alone. I learned to speak up, and by sharing my experiences and listening to the experiences of others, I came to the revelation that we all have our ups and downs. It’s not our accomplishments but our experiences that make us unique. And comparing yourself to others is futile.
We need to keep this in mind as we navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic and the political climate. Academia can be a cold, harsh place where the pressure to perform is enormous and positive reinforcements are few. Now that I’m a senior graduate student, I try to pass on these lessons by helping and encouraging others. While I still struggle with my issues and I have no idea when I’ll be able to see my family again thanks to COVID, I do know that with the support of those around me, I will survive this long and arduous journey.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Arundhati Deshmukh
by Xiaofei “Fay” Lin, University of California, Los Angeles, fourth year
I struggle with major depressive disorder, and social distancing for COVID-19 has greatly challenged how I manage my mental health. As a grad student, my research is 100% computational and can easily transition to remote work, but staying isolated at home worsens my depression, and that puts a damper on my productivity.
But I’m realizing that social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. For example, I schedule morning video calls to motivate myself to wake up for a timely start to my day, and video calls throughout my week help me keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues through informal chats and wellness check-ins.
Also, gym closures do not mean it’s game over for physical exercise. I started focusing on my at-home yoga practice and going on runs outside where there’s a scarce amount of people.
Finally, I’m being kind to myself even when research pressure is not. Graduate students have always faced pressure when it comes to research productivity. Much of that pressure remains during COVID-19 in the form of strict deadlines and stigma against “taking breaks” in academia. I remind myself that a global pandemic is not normal, and it’s OK if you’re not productive. While I’ve implemented methods to adjust to social distancing, there are some days when it’s still hard, and I’m just making it through each day. And that’s OK.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Xiaofei “Fay” Lin.
Arundhati Deshmukh is a 5th year chemistry Ph.D. student at UCLA. She received her BS-MS dual degree in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research-Bhopal in 2016, and is now working towards her Ph.D. in the laboratory of Professor Justin Caram. Deshmukh contributed to the CNSI Nanoscience Outreach program as a volunteer for teacher training workshops, and a mentor for high school and middle school students for the CNSI nanovation competition. She is a former co-president and founding member of UCLA Joint Research Safety Initiative (JRSI).
Xiaofei “Fay” Lin is a 4th year PhD student in the UCLA Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) Program. She received a B.A. degree in biology from New York University, and is now working towards her Ph.D. in the laboratory of Professor Alexander Hoffmann (UCLA Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics) as a Cellular and Molecular Biology Trainee. In 2019, Fay won the Audience Choice Award at the 5th Annual Grad Slam Final Competition and in 2018, she received national recognition as a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Honorable Mention recipient. In March 2019, Fay created her Twitter platform (@xiaofei_lin) focusing on mental health awareness, mentorship, and inclusivity in STEM. In a little over a year, Fay reached over 10,000 followers composed of academics from around the world.
Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,