Your research topic does not define your career – most people switch research topics throughout their career. However, your relationships with your advisor and your lab mates will turn out to be life-long relationships.
You will hate it sometimes – may want to drop out/quit – this is normal, ride it out.
Your success in the lab does not define your self-worth. Be sure to have other activities that you enjoy outside the lab. Take a day each week to not do work and not think about work and come back refreshed. Creativity needs space.
Make friends with administrators in your department and program. They are powerful allies.
Do not get hung up on your candidacy exam – think past the exam. Use it as a tool to enrich your work as a scholar. Same with committee meetings, they are there to help you succeed and to enrich your project and network.
Understand that feedback is a gift, not a criticism. Feedback of any kind – a question at a meeting, reviews on a grant or paper, conversations with colleagues – this is the scientific community interfacing you and believing in your work enough to want to make it better.
You will hear a lot of ‘no’ in many different ways. Don’t take no for an answer – For example, when your experiment doesn’t work, try it a different way. When your grant or paper is rejected, incorporate feedback and resubmit. Find a way around the ‘no’.
Try not to compare yourself to other people. It will often be way too easy to look around and see people apparently doing better than you. This can make you feel like crap about yourself and sap your motivation. Do your best to avoid comparisons. Remember that each person’s situation is unique.
When you struggle (and you will!) identify how you are struggling and seek out help. Don’t let struggle suck you into isolation. Talk to your friends, allies and mentors; ask for input on your protocols and drafts. Talk to a therapist. Reach out.
Remember that you belong here! Not because it’s easy for you, not because you’re like the people you see around you. You belong her because it’s hard and you keep fighting, and because you’re different and your voice is absolutely needed. You’ve got this!!