My name is Jennifer Rodriguez-Nieves
I was born in the little town of Quebradillas in the island of Puerto Rico where I was raised in a ranch. Goats, cows, horses, rabbits and chickens were my first friends. So much so that I couldn’t bear the thought of selling them or using them as food! Anyways, my town is in the north of the island. This means that the beach, or should I say beaches, were only a few minutes away. Growing up I was dedicated to studying and helping around the house (and arguing/playing with my little sister). My life was great.
As I became older big decisions were coming my way. I didn’t only have to choose where to go for high school but whether I wanted to stay with my parents or leave to pursue my passion for math and science. It was the hardest decision of my life. For as long as I can remember my parents have always supported and encouraged me to follow my dreams to become an independent, strong and intelligent woman. This time was no different. My parents, with a broken heart, allowed me to go to boarding school in Puerto Rico to get my high school diploma and supported me all the way without hesitation.
Since boarding school my determination and motivation lead me to pursue bigger dreams. I wanted to go to college for a bachelor’s degree and then continue to graduate school for a PhD. Because I am a first-generation college student, I was unable to consult with my family about college and degree selection. SO, I decided to pursue a biotech degree since that’s what most of the students were talking about. During the first two years I tried really hard to focus on the “bio” part of biotech. However, it never really worked. Then, with the help of professors, I decided to change majors. I found my passion and ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology.
PhD is next!
The funny thing was that I had no clue about what a PhD entailed. My mentor (Dr. B) recommended me to apply to a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). PREP served as a bridge from undergrad to graduate school. It helped me with the GRE, personal statement and interview process. I have to admit, the program was a success. I got more than 5 interviews and multiple offers. So… I got into a Biomedical Graduate Program! Woo hoo!
Now, this is where my real journey begins. I discovered that 1) graduate school is like the Hunger Games; it’s all about survival, 2) science, although it’s the main reason you applied to a PhD, only constitutes 10% of your entire graduate experience, and 3) mental health is a topic that no one feels free to talk about.
As I started my PhD process my mental health started to deteriorate. My days where long and exhausting. Nights were filled with anxiety and insomnia. The expectations where unrealistic and even though I was able to do everything that was asked for, (honestly, I have no idea how I did it) I never received a “Good Job”, “Well Done” or “You are doing good”. It was like no matter what, it was still not enough.
I started ignoring all the symptoms; the changes in my behavior and the lack of motivation. To me, those symptoms where just a confirmation of how unable I was to complete a PhD. I spiraled and entered a world of sadness and negativity, where I started trusting the wrong people, looking for anything that could make me feel whole again and letting others take over my life. I cannot put into words how horrible those days where.
A fresh start
Fortunately, it was finally over when my husband got me the help that I needed. I started treatment and the healing process. I took a medical leave from my PhD and went back home – to my family.
Nonetheless, my journey is not over. Graduate school is expecting me back and my mental health recovery is just starting.