Midterm blues

Harry at McGill in Montréal


Congratulations for anyone who read the title and made an effort to continue reading despite the likelihood this post may be a bit of a downer. It was written in response to a conclusion I recently reached and felt I should materialise in blog form.

Thus far the semester two plan for me has been to focus on work, meaning my weekends have been deemed work hours, and rely on my summer plans to provide sufficient incentive for me to keep up this mentality. In a recent flurry of deadlines and with midterm approaching I have resolved that even those with the strongest will may struggle to achieve this without a modicum of anguish.

Lately my interest, I strongly hesitate to use ‘passion’, for chemistry has been called into question on multiple occasions and though it is likely that such feelings are superficial and transient it has been unsettling. It could be dismissed as ‘senioritis’, a term frequently banded around by PhDs here to describe that sensation of being ‘fed up’ with one’s studies. Where you are far enough through your degree that graduation has never seemed like more of a sweet relief. Or perhaps, more optimistically, you are still bemused and curious about your course, but only the parts you wish to continue reading in later life.

For me it is almost more certainty to do with the lack of time I have spent doing something meaningful in my spare time. Perhaps the take home message for anyone in a similar position, either on their year abroad or worried about the workload once they’re at their host university, is to invest time doing something they can feel proud of when you are not cooped up in the library.

Friday and Saturday nights have not been void of leisurely activities, however, it is not rewarding to wake up late in the day and ask yourself ‘is that the best I can do when I am not studying?’.

Amid the first months when the exchange student body was putting out feelers and forming a network amongst itself it was often made as a point of humour that everyone at McGill was so highly achieving it was impossible not to feel slightly bad about yourself. We likened it to walking into a high school reunion and talking to all your peers and finding out you are the only one who is not a noble prize winning scholar with a successful business that funds humanitarian work. And you are the only one still single. And you dressed too casually.

Over time the lens with which I have made this observation has deformed and distorted and no longer does it seem like everyone here is an automated robotic character who was programmed from birth to do nothing but achieve. Instead, rather, people’s will to do well seems symptomatic of this hyper-studious work ethic imposed by McGill.

I have always been a proponent that a piece of work will take as many hours to complete as one sets aside for it. Hence it was critical to make plans such as hiking trips, drinks with friends and darkroom sessions to ensure there was a maximum time I would spend working. With more deadlines it seems logical that a sacrifice of such activities is inevitable… Or not. Like light protruding from a narrow crack as a door edges open it is slowly dawning on me that perhaps to stay motivated it is critical to feel more proud of what one is doing in their spare time. Maybe using the one free night a week just to get drunk at a party is a bit of an indulgence.

This realisation in no way means that I am going to stop practising what is important to me. It is instead an opportunity to refine what things are important to me and instead refocus my time onto activities more beneficial for myself and others.

It is with optimism that I hope this new perspective, as if being prescribed glasses for the first time, allows me to see more clearly what McGill is. How it is most certainly not an institution that robs an individual’s character for a degree, but conversely allows that individual to find their best possible character. Through a sort of evolutionary-work-life struggle it helps its students grow into adults that recognise what they are capable of both inside and outside an academic environment.

Since having this little epiphany it has become increasingly refreshing walking through campus and knowing that the shoulders I am brushing past belong to those who will one day enact change in the world.

Understanding how pretentious this must sound, and what an ordeal it must have been to read, I’ll wrap up with something a little more upbeat. It has recently got done to record breaking low temperatures. In the region of -30 to -40 degrees Celsius. Mucus freezing in the nose and icicles hanging from eye lashes are no longer phenomena I consider to be in the realm of my imagination.

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