Some questions are difficult to answer or even think through. One of those questions is what has been my worst and best day in academia?
Where do I even start? Don’t get me wrong, I have not had so many challenges that I can’t count them, nor am I ungrateful. But, how do I choose the very worst, or the very best day out of many years as a student and many experiences both good and bad? Let us start with what was probably the worst day…
During my Masters, I can safely admit that I was a workaholic and maybe I will develop into one again. However, I am glad I had a break between that period and my PhD. I worked more than 15 or 16 hours a day and got a maximum of three hours of sleep. Some days were better than others, and between the hectic hours, I went to the gym for at least one hour. I worked from 8am to almost 3 am on good days 8. One of the quotes I often hear used is ‘It takes 21 days to make a habit’ – Unknown, so this working pattern became a habit even though it was excruciating.
I have narrated that I overworked myself. To be honest, I do not know why I did this, but maybe because of peer pressure from my other lab members. Anyway, one night around 3am I packed my backpack ready to go to my room in the residential areas. In my unconscious state, I went on with my routine like I normally would, shut down my laptop, packed up my mouse, and put away everything else. As I closed the computer, I heard an unfamiliar sound, but I ignored it, I was very tired and just wanted to sleep.
The next morning, I felt as rested as I usually was and came back to campus with all my energy. As I opened my laptop, the first thing I noticed was that the cable of my headset was between my screen and laptop keyboard. Hmmm. I ignored that, and I switched on my laptop. Only to find, to the shock of my life, the compressed headsets had cracked my screen, I do not know where the pressure came from but it did. Mind you, I was broke, fixing a screen would have cost around R1500, I had deadlines, I had stress. I cried, I thought of solutions and I had anxiety. It was one of those stressful situations that I couldn’t even use work to escape from because the ink had spread all over the screen. Fortunately, in a week I fixed it, even though it was one of the longest weeks of my life.
It can only be a coincidence that one of my best days happened just a few months after the incident. As I said I had deadlines, one of those was the submission of my first review paper to a journal, which my supervisor had asked me to a few weeks before my laptop incident. After fixing my computer I did manage to submit it. Then one day, one random morning after all the submissions and editing I received an email that my paper has been accepted for publication. This was my first paper and because I sometimes can be emotional, I cried.
I had previously heard stories of how a paper can be rejected multiple times and get re-submitted, but mine was only rejected by one journal and then accepted. This was one of my highlights as a researcher and it gave me hope to strive for excellence and write more. But most importantly I learned to not let each day define me, either bad or good. The same computer which through my carelessness decided to crack is the same one that helped me write a paper that later even gained attention and won an international award. There is light at the end of the computer…