One of the major concerns I was quickly made aware of when starting grad school is how foreign of a process it can be, particularly to friends and family who chose others paths. I find myself regularly commiserating with other grad students about how hard it can be to go home for the holidays and explain how academia works to friends and family whose questions, although asked through genuine interest, can be really off-the-mark and, at times, insulting. (Pro-tip: Asking, “Why aren’t you done yet?”, when I’m not even done with the number of years the program takes is a bit demotivating, as is the reminder “That’s why I left. You know, because there’s no future in that”. Geesh.)
Anyway, some holiday conversations did result in productive exchanges. Surprisingly, a conversation on resolutions not only helped me get across what it’s like to be a grad student, but also engender some basic appreciation for and understanding of science.
So, I was asked what my resolutions were, and they looked about like this:
Image from PhDComics.
Friends and family definitely were supportive of making academic progress, but they were more excited about the goals to the left of that paper (eating better, getting sleep, exercising, etc.). Many of them shared these goals, and we began brainstorming about ways to accomplish them.
In brainstorming, it was incredibly apparent that the basics of why we gain/lose weight were not as basic as I thought. I was able to take some of the materials I used for my non-majors bio course (ISB 202 L) to talk about what calories, fat, and pounds really mean. With just a bit of conversation, I was able to get across the math behind weight, and talk about the factors which govern the difficulty of weight loss. For example, males and females, old and young, will tend to lose/gain weight and muscle mass at different rates, so a 1-1 family competition to get in shape and lose weight isn’t fair, as some will need to work harder than others. Thus, we’re adjusting by multipliers while keeping each other accountable until real habits are formed.
Likewise, nutrition was not really well understood. Honestly, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to food, so my choices are more about convenience than health, and I’d erroneously assumed that was true among my friends. It turns out, quite a few of my friends didn’t know what healthy means. So, we went through what your body needs when, and why. It was very nice to have a vegetarian friend of mine bolster the conversation and share resources she uses to be sure she’s got a balanced diet. It seemed the trend (among those with poorer diets, myself included) was to eat a ridiculous amount of meat and carbs and leave out greens. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone, but it was nice to share tips on making eating healthier brainlessly-easier to do. (Incidentally, I have recently fallen totally in love with Tupperware, my wok, and grilling on the George Foreman. Progress is happening, and it’s not out of the reach of a grad student, I promise. That said, check back in with me in a month. ;) )
Conversations continued on the negative effects of sleep deprivation and the importance of support. It was nice to see friends and family appreciate why nutrition science studies exist, and even more refreshing to see them start to point out potential flaws, such as studies being based all on male participants or based on low sample sizes. It seems at least diet/nutrition can be gateway to trusting in science, and in evaluating claims.
Before a movie night we hosted, I was so proud to see a friend of mine grab a bag of caramel popcorn and be shocked at the amount of sugar it contained. She poured it out anyway and of course we scarfed it up. Baby steps, right?
We resolved to do better, and having some knowledge is going to help.