Even people with charmed lives need a bit of encouragement every now and then. My first year of graduate school at the University of Washington (1996-1997) found me in a funk. After having been an all-star in undergraduate coursework, I found the open-endedness of graduate assignments very daunting. I had not exactly covered myself in glory with my three rotations with potential research mentors. Other graduate students seemed incredibly interested in the projects they were attempting, but I felt disconnected from my own. The lack of sunlight in cloud-covered Seattle had pushed me into an altogether different realm of Seasonal Affective Disorder. In short, I felt like I was being a disappointment to everyone. I began spending considerable amounts of time looking for job opportunities that would take me outside the walls of academia. I had been a cooperative education student with Monsanto during my undergraduate years, so I knew I had marketable skills. I even applied to an internship program at a local insurance company in hopes of transitioning into a permanent position.
It was during this dark time that a phone call with my mother stiffened my upper lip. I had not kept my frustration with graduate school a secret from my parents. They knew I was unhappy to the extent of significant depression. Mom decided it was the right moment to tell me a story. She reminded me that she had gone to graduate school during my lifetime, and she had completed all the work required to achieve her educational specialist degree. All that stood in the way of her gaining her doctorate was the research and write-up of dissertation. Mom looked at what she had accomplished and what she sought to do in her career next. Since she could take on these roles with her Ed.S., she opted to stop her education there. In her words, “one of my sons will be the first Doctor Tabb.”
The message was clear, since my brother had completed his education with a Master’s Degree. This task was on me. I decided that I would stay. Maybe I would be a fizzle, and maybe I would be tossed out, but I didn’t have the option of quitting voluntarily. I decided to join the John Yates Laboratory (the first group with which I had rotated) and devote myself to getting “neck-deep” in a bioinformatics project.
(September 18, 1997)
The clouds had blocked the sun’s soft light
And brought my day to early night.
Though I had only just arrived
My spirits took an rapid dive.
One year of school had let me down
And left me yearning for my town
Across the country in the plains
Where in the past I’d made my name.
But just as I had lost my way
The clouds let through a little day.
A woman’s touch revived my hope
And broke through my extended mope.
For one bright moment I could see
My grad school angst and misery
Would not forever fill my life
With tear and fears and common strife.
So I’ve resolved to fight some more
And even think it not a chore
To write software for others’ fame
For three letters after my name.