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  • Naia Butler-Craig

First Year Graduate Student, No More

Updated: May 11

Say Hello to a 2nd year Aerospace Engineering PhD student 🚀

I was going to try and take these cute pictures to celebrate the end of my first year of grad school but decided that they weren’t truly reflecting my current reality. My current reality is: no pants, hair tied, sitting at my desk that is in my living room. Why? Because I’m deciding to make the sacrifices of all healthcare professionals worthwhile, and stay home.


I had a lot on my plate this semester: classes, being a Graduate Teaching Assistant, 4-5 speaking opportunities, my aunts wedding, running my e-commerce business and leading my first research project as a graduate student.


I remember feeling very excited and anxious about the outcome of this semester and thought a few times I was way in over my head. Who did I think I was to pursue all this stuff and come out successful? Then I saw this amazing quote by one of my pastors, Heather Lindsey. It was one of things where God sends you exactly what you need at the exact time you need it.

This quote, reminded me to shift my focus off of what I thought I was capable of to what I know God can do through me. And if you don't necessarily believe in a Higher Power, maybe you believe you're meant to be doing what you do and instead of focusing on what you can't do you focus on the fact that this is where you belong. But of course, regardless of your beliefs, these little revelations don't always last long. And with that, imposters syndrome may start to take hold.


Now there’s plenty I learned along the way and though some was learned the hard way, I’m thankful for it. The single most important thing I learned over the last few months, to combat imposters syndrome and just to get through life in general, was to be patient. Patient with myself, patient with my development and patient with my environment. It’s important you don’t place this perfect version of yourself in your mind on a pedestal. That’s the best way to end up being extremely disappointed in who you are right at this moment. But who you are right now is extremely important to the person you’re working on becoming. So love you at every stage of your evolution.


Fast forward through the semester and here are my highlights:


✅ I survived.

✅ Helped fire my first ion thruster (Justus-Liebig University RIT-10).

✅ Earned a Modern-Day Technology Leader Black Engineer of the Year Award.

✅ Earned my dream fellowship: NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellowship.

✅ I was a bridesmaid for the first time!

✅Sat on a few panels and gave a few talks to share my story and ultimately help others!

✅ I got serious about my brand and bought an LCC as a self-proclaimed STEM Influencer

✅ Aimed for a 4.0, fell short twice (3.0 first semester and 3.5 second semester) and I got over it. Learned that perfection isn’t the goal. Progress is. And while I really wanted my first 4.0 I’m OK with giving myself some more time to get there.


Here's to more progress for the next academic year.


Below you will find my highlight reel.


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