May peace accompany your winding path

One of the biggest benefits I’ve obtained along my mindfulness journey so far has been an increased sense of self-awareness. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I have always said it is both my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. However, I never realized how much my perfectionism is tied to my struggles: how upset I am when things don’t go as planned, how much pressure I put on myself to get every little thing just right, and how draining a “failure” can be. Mindfulness has gently lifted the veil off my face, allowing me to see the puzzle pieces that are my personality and is guiding me to assemble the pieces together.

One of the many challenges for me in grad school is learning how to roll with the punches and how to remain proactive when plans go awry. When I was growing up, my motto in life was always, “it happens,” and as I got older it too got older and became, “s#*t happens”.  Somehow I’ve forgotten that little mantra during my early years of graduate school. Now I feel like I’m planning and planning, and working and working; trying so hard to find some sense of accomplishment and being easily frustrated when things don’t go quite as I had planned. And of course things hardly ever go as planned (especially in science, and especially for graduate students). Often times, the things that don’t go as planned are beyond my control. Maybe you are waiting for a reagent to be shipped in which unexpectedly is on back order, maybe the freezer crashed or a vital instrument breaks and you are left waiting for manufacturers to come and fix things on their timeline. These crappy things are generally beyond a person’s control. This is where my old saying, “it happens” really comes in handy. I’ve definitely lost sight of that attitude during my PhD training. I’m so emotionally and physically invested in my PhD, that I allow these little life things to add stress to an already stressful environment.

As a perfectionist, I want to have a plan, but I need to gently remind myself that it’s OK to allow that plan to change. When “life” happens, it’s important to take a breath. Ask yourself if there’s anything in your power that you can do to “fix” the situation. If the situation is beyond your control, just remember that this is life. In order to know perfection, we know imperfection; everything is balanced. Allow yourself to bring peace to yourself, to your loved ones, and to the world around you. Remind yourself that it’s OK to follow a curving path. May peace accompany you and guide you along the winding path that is life.


Feeling overwhelmed?

Have you recently experienced that feeling of having a mountain range pressing across your shoulders, burdening you with sensations of anxiety and tension? Maybe you’ve been juggling too many obligations and you feel like you’ve spread yourself too thin. Perhaps you also have the feeling that nothing you do is actually working, like you are a hamster trapped endlessly running on one of those wheels (ahem, grad school in a nutshell). I’ve been encumbered by these feelings on-and-off for the last several weeks. Luckily for me, my mindfulness practice has recently progressed to two guided meditations that seem ideal for these situations: 1. exploring difficulty and 2. befriending.

For me, the exploring difficulty meditation has helped me face and accept those challenges that are outside of my control, and better understand how I physically and emotionally react to those challenges subconsciously. For instance, I noticed that my shoulders and neck will be the first thing to tense up when I’m upset or overwhelmed. Since bringing awareness to this bodily response, I incorporate more stretches and motions to reduce that tension in a mindful manner. Now when I find myself in the shadow of the anxiety mountain, I steal myself back to the moment- take a deep breath and gently tilt my head from side-to-side, feeling my neck muscles stretch and ache in response. This helps bring me back from the brink of bad moods and unhappiness when I allow myself to linger in sensations of anxiety.

I’m often guilty of focusing too much energy and effort on things that aren’t working or that I don’t know. As a perfectionist, I even blame myself for something not working or for not knowing something. The befriending meditation has helped me bring kindness to myself, something I’ve always struggled with. This meditation has also helped me to realize that I can allow myself to be happy with who I am. Furthermore, I should congratulate myself for making incremental progress towards those larger goals and taking note of those new things (however small or insignificant they seem) that I learn everyday. It’s important to remember that everything takes time, and time will always progress. You will remember the past, you may look forward to the future, but be sure to live now with loving kindness for yourself.

P.S. If you are interested in the guided meditations I’ve mentioned in this blog post, you can find them freely available here.


One of the key tenants of mindfulness is to be present in the moment. While it’s been a struggle, slowly adopting this perspective has been transformative to my lifestyle, as I’m one of those people who always likes to have a plan- especially for the future. Although presently I’m in graduate school and actively doing research towards my PhD, I’m often struggling with feelings and anxiety related to “imposter syndrome”. Many of you may be familiar with (and have even experienced) imposter syndrome, but for those who aren’t familiar, imposter syndrome, simply put, is a strong feeling of not being good enough or qualified enough to be in your current position.

For me, I think imposter syndrome is largely connected to my background as a first-gen college student, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist- so I’m always critical and hard on myself. When I get caught up in these low moments of being especially hard on myself and worrying that I’m not good enough, I try to take a moment to remember where I currently am. Then, I do like to take a small amount of time to reflect on how I’ve gotten to this position.

If you have a moment, I want to share a trip down memory lane with you. That being a part of my journey to graduate school. I grew up in southwest Michigan, and I stayed in Michigan to obtain my undergraduate degree. During undergrad, I was exposed to many “critical factors” as I’ll call them. The first “critical factor” was a whole department of faculty who care about their students, and in particular, my first research mentor. Dr. Lee accepted me into her lab as a bright-eyed, excited, and oblivious (I had never stepped foot into a research lab before) college freshman. I began going to “the lab” in between and after classes where I would wash the lab dishes and learn from the graduate students and Dr. Lee about the research that was being conducted. The second “critical factor” was the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at CMU which I was accepted into during my 2nd year of college. Through the McNair Scholars Program, I was funded to do my first summer research project with Dr. Lee. More importantly, I learned that there is funding to do research in graduate school to obtain a PhD. My mind was blown! I remember thinking, “What?! They will pay me to go to school to do research and get a graduate degree?!”

I’d like to pause here to emphasize that for me, as a first-generation college student, higher education/ graduate school was a black box. I didn’t know anything about it- from what the different degrees were, to how you apply, and any of the funding situations. Thanks to my “critical factors” (especially the McNair Scholars Program), I quickly learned all of these things and was provided the resources needed to facilitate applying to grad school, which would have likely been out of reach otherwise with my background. I continued nurturing my passion for research during undergrad and somehow managed to get accepted into a graduate program to begin the fall after I completed my Bachelor’s degree.

Fast forward to the present, and I’m completing my 3rd year of graduate studies. Grad school has been a learning experience unlike any other, in my opinion. Remember that it’s important to reflect on your own journey and how it’s shaped you into the person you are. Importantly, take time to be present in the moment. Grad school is filled with highs and lows, try to embrace both for what they teach you, and make the most out of each moment.


Hi there!

My name is Amanda, and I’m a graduate student studying chemical biology. I’m in denial, but I’ve just wrapped up my 3rd academic year of PhD. I’ve recently been motivated to create this blog to raise awareness to the challenges faced by many graduate students during the “roller coaster ride” that is experienced (at least by many) during the PhD.

As you can see, I’ve titled this blog, “Mindful Path to PhD” and I’ll be sharing tid bits of insight about my recent (~3 months) incorporation of mindfulness into my daily life. I hope this blog can be a place filled with positivity, and I encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback with me in a constructive and meaningful manner.

I must warn- I’m no Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or “insert famous author name here”, and I’m no Einstein, Faraday, Feynman, or “insert influential scientist name here”. In other words, I’m not a great writer, and I’m not a genius, but I hope you’ll join me on this journey to improving the well-being of graduate students all-around.