Letter from the Editor: Grad School: Like a Hike in the Woods

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dear Reader,

Last month, I almost died while hiking in the woods with a classmate in the Philippines. We were returning to the main road from the Hanging Coffins in Sagada; we crossed a river and lost the trail, a few hours before sunset.

We tried not to panic, knowing that there was a house on top of the hill, and we just had to find a way up. Like good scientists, we hypothesized that the slightly less dense areas were more likely to lead to trails, and observing three flattish patches of grass, we investigated.

But each time, the hypothetical trail became steeper and eventually reached a thick patch of brambles—a dead end. Each time, we grew more afraid of cobras, of nightfall, imagined graver headlines about the “Two American Women Missing in the Philippines.”

After our third attempt, we had two options: go back the way we came or scale the steep hill ahead of us, brambles and all. Going back would take too long; we would get even more lost crawling through mud and cow dung in the dark. We were so close to that house, we could see it. We had to climb on.

For what felt like an eternity (but was probably less than an hour), we climbed over and through patches of thorns that tore into our palms and our bare limbs. Sometimes the hill got so steep that the only way we could climb up it was by boosting each other up onto the next ledge.

Finally, we found the trail again, and we made it to the main road just before sunset, sweaty and muddy and covered in scratches but relieved to be alive. (And then we held the hedgehog that you’ve already seen if you’ve liked the Synapse Facebook page.)

Dear reader, grad school (or professional school or what have you) is like hiking in the woods. You might get lost in the beginning or between third and fourth years or maybe at the end, unsure of what to do next. Sometimes, you try really hard, only to reach a dead end or several. Sometimes, it seems smarter to go back, and maybe that’s true. You might face seemingly insurmountable challenges and need a little boost. We’ve all been there.

Just remember: the trail is so close. You’ve made it so far, and you have so much support here at UCSF. Within these pages, you’ll learn about the numerous fantastic departments that offer this support, from Student Health and Counseling (SHC) to the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) to First Generation Support Services (FG2C). Student groups include campus-wide and individual school governments, the Graduate Queer Alliance (GQA) and the newly formed Student Peer Support Center (SPSC), which targets graduate student mental health.  There’s even a place for you if you, like me, are really into poetry.

We’ve collected advice from upper years, earthquake preparedness tips and a taste of normal Synapse content—recent news stories, upcoming event listings and regular columns, both old and new, such as This Date in UCSF History, our own version of #TBT.

Synapse strives to serve as a resource for students (and all readers) throughout the academic year, and this summer we editors have worked incredibly hard to launch a new Synapse to better serve you, the UCSF students and trainees. In addition to news and events, you can look forward to many other biweekly and monthly columns: Life of a Grad Student, which interviews PhD students from all walks of life to tell the stories of the people behind the benches; UCaSeFiles, a medical mystery series inspired by the New York Times column; the cartoon series Medical Mythbusters; Let’s Get Physical, a physical therapy advice column. We’re also launching new series* that focus on policy, careers and biomedical startups, to name a few.

And of course, if you have an interest in writing, editing, photography or just learning more about campus, check out some of our old articles at synapse.ucsf.edu and join us at an upcoming Synapse meeting (Wednesdays at 12pm in the Multicultural Resource Center). You can contribute to an existing column or pitch your own article ideas. Few of us had experience when we started, but we have all learned so much and are so glad we got involved. Synapse has been one of my favorite parts of grad school, and I think many of our writers and editors would agree.

Welcome to the 2014-15 Orientation Issue of Synapse, the UCSF newspaper. We are so excited to welcome you (back) to campus, and we’re here to help you find your way.


Jenny Y. Qi