The limit does not exist

As I reflect on my academic journey, I surprise myself on how far I’ve come. Pursing a PhD has pushed me beyond what I ever imagined I could be capable of. Never did I think I would commit to a lifestyle that is this demanding, emotionally draining, and mentally exhausting. Today, I tackle the challenge on how I can #BeUnstoppable.

Nevertheless, I persist.

I’m realizing more and more that academia is more forgiving that you’d think. The nature of research is that you succeed through your failures. This may mean you spending hours in the lab conducting experiments only to get crappy results and having to start all over again. This could mean you conducting an interview and realizing you have to change the whole scope of your research question. This could also mean going to the grocery store, buying what you think are non-dairy enchilada’s from Amy’s and finding out that you did, in fact, buy cheese enchiladas…(true story: after a brutal few days, getting the wrong meal was really sad).

Failure is an essential ingredient to your success. Persistence is the other.

Failure + Persistence = Success

Success1For me, doing my PhD sometimes feels like I’m thrown into a massive challenge where I am tasked to survive with the primitive tools that I have. Through weeks of writing, re-writing, crying, analyzing, and more crying, I develop grit. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still terrified of the idea of having to propose my dissertation and whatnot. But what I do know is that I have grit and I just need to bite down and do it.

I do things unrelated to my work.


There’s only so much data analysis that I can take in a day. Yesterday, I spent a total of 12 hours doing analysis for just one empirical model. It sucked and I was a major crank monster. I realized that in the past 3 days, I hadn’t devoted much time to doing something unrelated to academics. Once this realization hit me, I closed my laptop and hit the gym for an hour. I came out of the gym feeling like a giant sweaty sticker but I was happy (serotonin, anyone?). Giving myself the time to do the things I love replenishes my motivation and is another way to increase productivity.

I remind myself on why I love public health.


When I’ve spent countless hours doing data analysis and I get error messages 30% of the time, it’s hard to state why I even decided to choose this life. But then I realize the tingly feels I get when I read an exciting development in public health. I know the curiosity public health sparks when I see articles on the news. The feeling you get when you make a breakthrough. The childish pride you feel when your advisor tells you “You’re on the right track.” Or the appreciation you feel when someone tells you that your research is interesting, and they mean it. I sometimes daydream of meeting the leaders of my field and possibly having a heart attack from being nerd-star-struck. I also daydream about the day that the world will care about my research. But even if they didn’t, I find it fascinating.

I trust the process and make it my own.

1Moon landing PhDI see being a researcher as a process of refining. Just as you continue to develop and refine your skills, who you are also grows and is shaped by the attitude you bring to the table.

Pursuing a PhD is hard and time-consuming. But you know what? I’m doing this very difficult and time-consuming thing and rocking at it. It’s MY journey and that is terrifyingly exciting. The most counter-productive thing I can do is to succumb to my own limitations.

If you feel like you just can’t go on, just remember Lindsey’s wise words:


How are you unstoppable?

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3 thoughts on “The limit does not exist

  1. teresuschem

    Hey Susanna this is an amazing article. Doing a PhD is hard and the fact that we’re doing it is already a success. Keep going, limits are only in our mind. Much love

  2. The same tingly happens to me when I get bogged down with feelings of OHGODWHY and then I read something related to language teaching that makes me feel good and happy and I’m like oh yeah…that’s why. You are a bawse.

  3. I could not have read this article at a better time! I’m working on my dissertation draft, and keep having to go back and change my research questions and hypotheses, making me wonder if I’m doing this right, and will I graduate?! Thanks for reminding me that we just need to keep going, doing the best we can. And balance it out with self-care or other activities!

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