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The Important of Mental Support

I knew I wanted to be a scientist as long as I can remember. I was that weird kid: I did redox chemistry in my bathtub. I got great grades on my baccalauréat and got accepted into my dream chemistry program at a university. It was a rough time (and could probably be the subject of its own post!) but I graduated with a bachelor's and a master's from there.

I applied for PhDs in the US and got accepted in a small university under a great PI. During a trip back home that Christmas, my whole internal mental support system imploded, for a variety of factors. I was left a shadow of myself: I had huge anxiety, would have frequent breakdowns, would bang my head against the wall and try to "rip my brain out" by clawing at my skull. I had to drive myself to psych ward. My PI was supportive during that time. I slowly went back to work, having to overcome a newfound anxiety of working in the lab.

In May that year, I saw a psychiatrist specialized in ASD diagnosis and was formally diagnosed with Asperger's. Having a name for why I was different just was a huge relief. Slowly, and thanks to a lot of psychiatric and counseling help, I have come to terms with my brain. I am able to be happy now.

My PI took a while to understand my diagnosis, for a while he thought I had Tourette's. Then he decided he needed to pressure me into things. This had the exact opposite effect: I mentally completely shut down and my research productivity plummeted. I was told by my psychiatrist to take six weeks of medical leave.

I'm back to work now, just starting my fifth year. I have a different, less pressure inducing project.

I am unsure where to go after this. These experiences have taught me that I am not really suited for the high pressure and low reward system in academia. Should I do a postdoc? Or go to industry? I'm not sure I'm built for that either. For now, I'm working day to day, trying to finally publish and get out of here. And some days, I just have to tell my boss: "sorry, it's been really rough."


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