semester 3. oh boy.

Jen Xu
5 min readAug 19, 2022

fall semester is coming up, yuck. just kidding, i am actually very excited for it. i didn’t realize how much i craved structure until I was left without it yet again this summer. summer of 2021 — i had no job. i had nothing to do but eat and sleep and go to the gym, which really helped me get stronger. but i was losing my mind slowly without realizing it.

this summer of 2022 — i had to do work, but i was also able to take vacations if i needed to. unfortunately, my brain does not do well in the grey area. i need something that ties me into a routine more than my own whims, because they are very whimsical. that’s where classes and meetings come in! there’s just enough structure to kick my butt into gear. see, it’s not that i’m lazy. i have what we call paralysis by analysis. if i have a list of things to do, i will sit there and wonder for hours what i should do first. what if i pick the wrong thing to do first? what if something happens & i can’t do what i planned to do & everything gets ruined?

so hey, welcome to my brain. it’s a lot of fun. but it is what allows me the creativity & weirdness that i…ooze. however, i’m curious what my recent adhd diagnosis/introduction to medication will do for my education, and i’m really excited to find out. i have spent 27 years of my life agonizing over decisions & never letting my brain or my body rest, and i am hopeful this will allow me to find balance & be more efficient.

but as usual, before each semester, i like to set goals.

  1. maintain my gym/water polo schedule. this really fell apart during my master’s program. i can say i had much less work-life balance then, so i hope it will be better now, but with the introduction of a dog & attempting to not be in pain all the time, i’ll have to be very careful how i structure things. like i can only do water polo 2x a week.
  2. maintain my comedy “appearances”. it’s incredible that i’ve found a community here in my area (both CVille and Richmond) that allows me to embrace my weirdness, and i cannot let it get away from me! mondays will be my “outlet” day, where i can go up & give my best 5 minutes of myself to make people laugh!
  3. write at least once a week. i want to keep a record of all the lessons i’ve been learning in a phd program, and this is definitely one of the best ways to do it.
  4. further develop my relationships with comedy/water polo/lab friends/my boyfriend.

hold on. these aren’t goals. those up there? those are general requirements for me to maintain my sanity. i actually think that before you embark on something new (such as a new semester), you should set both “requirements for sanity” as well as actual “goals” that force you out of your comfort zone & into some hefty personal growth. it’s time to reframe these things. ok, goals:

  1. actually go to office hours with professors. my elective & stats course are both in the public health school at the medical school here, which is a really awesome opportunity for networking & learning outside of my “area”, i guess. i have rarely done this because my hard-headed nature is to fight a problem for hours first. but it’s time to change that. “i don’t have time”, i say, as i spend hours on one homework problem that could be easily solved if i try for a reasonable amount of time first, then ask for help.
  2. reach out to our industry collaboration departments — do we have one? so i have no idea what this really means, but i want to dive into research with minimalist footwear, which means i need to probably find a minimalist footwear company that may be willing to help further my research agenda, but really the research agenda of the minimalist footwear community. so i want to start planning for that this fall.
  3. slowly increase my mentorship opportunities with master’s students, undergrad students interested in research, & the students I TA for. i don’t have to do anything drastic, but i want to 1) act more like the mentor i wanted but never really had (especially as an Asian female — the male mentors/role models in my life have been incredible but it’s still not the same), which means being way more mature, 2) show people why research can be so much fun. i think the asian piece is incredibly important too, more on that later.
  4. more of a sidenote — but consider how i might conduct research on AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) athletic trainers, i need to reach out to people to see if they’re interested in helping because i definitely can’t do this alone.
  5. write a lot of science stuff. i’m not great at being concise & consistently writing in active voice. but i have an epidemiology paper where i need to start writing the skeleton, and i would like to pursue another systematic review “on the side”. i know that i am good at it but i could still improve a lot.
  6. continue to train my dog — she is incredibly smart & a great listener. i know how important it is to have structure & be mentally stimulated, so i hope i can continue to do the same for her. i want to train her to do cool dog stuff & listen to me so that she can stay safe. i also want to try to just “let her be a puppy”, and give her more freedom. i really like a sense of control so i need to work on that for her sake. i’m excited to see how having a dog will push me out of my comfort zone yet again.
  7. participate on committees & things where i can — i applied to be on the graduate student committee in my school, and i am going to be part of the planning for our student research conference in the spring. i am also (i think somewhat informally) going to help with the young professionals committee here in virginia. i also am thinking of forming some kind of AAPI social/support group specifically in the kinesiology department or just within the school. so i hope to continue to get involved & try to make differences in these small ways.
  8. get better at journal clubs. uh, i’m not sure exactly how to do this but i guess i’ll just keep practicing & asking people for advice.

alright, i think that’s enough goals for the semester. hopefully i’ll be continuing to write throughout the semester, but i’ll check back in with these halfway through, and then at the end. i may also write another one with 3 concise goals that my advisor & i come up with, because this is still a lot. the cool thing is that i’m not putting pressure on myself to do these perfectly.

now i have to get back to my puppy who is freaking out. ok bye!

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Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.