but in a really good way!!!!!!

What the FUCK just happened?

Word vomit about my first semester as a grad school student

a. Sánchez
6 min readDec 19, 2019


Let’s get this out of the way. I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE I’M IN GRAD SCHOOL???

I still think this is an elaborate joke!!

Beyond the major self-doubt, the committee behind accepting my application at Carnegie Mellon University — I FREAKIN LOVE YOU.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to settle the fuck down and keep my cool and pretend like I’m totally supposed to be here.

Initial Thoughts

Grad school is way way way harder than I thought it was going to be. My brain power was really put to the test. I was challenged emotionally, mentally, and physically (giving a 20-minute presentation after being awake for 52 hours is really really hard). Without getting super emotional, grad school is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. As an almost 26-year-old, I’ve never felt so uncertain and unsure of who I was in this world. But grad school has helped me with understanding so many parts of myself. I wish I could marry grad school (if grad school wasn’t a gold digger).


I’m not “normal”. I often deviate from the norm on many levels. One of them being cognitively. I started school with 3 diagnosis. ADD, Anxiety, and Depression. How cute! School was never easy for me, and that’s a whole other story. Basically, I’ve always been a C- student, I fell asleep in almost every class and only really got the opportunity to go to college because of a running scholarship. I made it through undergrad (just barely) but developed severe anxiety and went through multiple depressive episodes in which I’d cut myself, sleep for days on end, and skip weeks-worth of classes. My brain and I didn’t have the best relationship.

Fast forward to grad school. I never considered myself a visual person (jokes on me because I was a graphic designer). I enjoyed writing things instead of drawing them. Never really thought of myself as an artist so I avoided any type of sketching. The extent of my doodles went as far as drawing cubes over and over again to fight boredom during client calls. Then came a Professor A (I will not name them because this post has so many swear words). I was professor A’s research assistant. Through many meetings, I had expressed to Professor A my difficulty with Seminar 1: a class that required us to read a lot and then write about it. They mentioned that I might just be a visual learner. The rest is HISTORY. Just kidding, but without boring you I found out that diagramming was my gateway drug into the world of learning. Admittedly I’m still trying to combine my motor skills with diagramming quickly in class but I’ve been using this method to understand complex subjects, theories, and readings most of the semester. Fuck bullet points!

Another important lesson that was bestowed upon me was that I’m different. But not in a bad way! I approach many design activities differently than others. I love word maps, I like playing with blocks, and I love vomiting ideas onto whiteboards. It was brought to my attention that I’d apologize for showing my ideas in a different manner than others. Others would show their thought process via neatly curated sketches of one really good idea one week into the project. If my ideation phase process had a sound it would be the sound of someone screaming. BUT THAT’S OK. When I noticed that I wasn’t doing things the “right” I started to shut out ideas that could become really great interventions or projects. All because everyone else’s approach looked more ‘right’. I was confronted by some professors and was told that my thought process and the way I approach things isn’t wrong, it’s just DIFFERENT, and that’s 100% ok. *brain explosion emoji*.

As an Aquarius*, I’m supposed to WANT to deviate from the norm. Which is kind of true. But academia and brain stuff is a place that I had always wished I was “normal” in. But now, that’s something that I would never ever want to wish upon myself. I’m sure I’ll run into some hiccups here and there but I’m thankful for the way I think and process things. Yay brain you’re not getting evicted!

*I’m an Aquarius but have MAJOR Virgo energy. No, I don’t 100% believe in astrology but it makes for great memes and relating to content is really comforting so LET ME HAVE THIS OK.

Topics, Subject, Things

Grad school exposed me to so many THINGS. Ideas, people, projects, theories, books, places, words, etc etc. You get the point. I have opened to a whole new world of everything. I keep thinking of how narrow my POV was when I entered grad school. What I thought I was passionate about is now just one of many things I’m currently drooling over. I’m not sure yet how to break this all down so I made a diagram laying out keywords that represent what I really latched onto this semester.

I came into grad school sort of expecting a ‘general assembly’ course on steroids where we’d learn wireframing best practices, agile dev, etc. But no. It has been SO MUCH more. We learned how to think. We learned substance, we learned that before you can ever get to production, you have to think. Grad school made me realize how little I actually thought on a daily basis. Terrifies me to think how little of my brain I had been using up until now. Sorry brain!

Things to work on

If you can’t already tell, I’m a horrible writer. Academic writing is something I’ve always sucked at. I want to get better, but I’m still figuring out how I want to do that. Why can’t we write papers as a series of insta-story posts? Or tweets?

Organization. I started off the semester really strong. Writing things in my agenda, putting files in the right folder, taking really nice and clean notes. Updating medium posts. That all kind of fell apart during week 4ish. I think I’ve been trying to shove myself into a box that isn’t really working for me. I need to find a system that works for me, not a system that I have to work for. Whoa. Deep.

Personal Life

Things I should have done more of: washed my face at night, eat more veggies, take my vitamins every day, exercise more, breathe more. Not really personal but also just doubting myself less would have been nice.

Just want to give a quick shoutout to my mains Sertraline and Vyvanse for getting me through this semester. My biggest thanks to sertraline. I thought anxiety meds were going to ruin my stomach and mess with my moods but so far it’s been the BEST. Also, side shout out to insurance~

(Literal) Closing Statements

You learn the most by doing.
Stop measuring twice and then cutting.
You’re different, and that’s more than ok.
You can always get your PhD.
Drinking water will solve a lot.
You’re doing a really great job sweetie.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not!
Speak up when you’re struggling, professors and people are here to help.
It’s not a kidney stone passing, it’s just your period.




a. Sánchez

MDes @ CMU • They/Them • The scum between your toes