Once upon a time, I was on track to get my PhD in political science. After three years, I decided to leave the program with my master’s degree and find my happy (like blogging!). During this time, I went through major challenges and learned a lot of hard lessons. Out of ALL the things I’ve learned, these are the MOST important.
I am not my work
This is the NUMBER ONE lesson. If I had an off day in class or received less than stellar feedback, I was devastated. There were many times I walked out of class and cried because I felt like a failure. I felt stupid. My work was not perfect, therefore I felt worthless.
This is sad.
At some point, I learned how to be a person outside of school. I was always an excellent student and that was the source of my self esteem. It took time (and lots of therapy), but I separated my work from my identity and this process made me both a better student and a more sane person!
Ego drives people
This goes back to the first point. When people can’t separate themselves from their work, they are often driven by ego. They make irrational decisions. They’re paranoid. They’re defensive. They’re hyperfocused on themselves. Kissing ass doesn’t keep you from the wrath of a bruised ego, but understanding how pride motivates behavior will prevent you from taking things too personally.
How to teach (and how to learn)
Grad school is not like college. There are no lectures. No textbooks. No exams. No straight answers or lessons. Your job is to create new information, not regurgitate facts. Your professor is a guide and YOU are your own teacher. Nearly everything I’ve learned was through self-study. Hours, days, MONTHS of trial and error. Sure, I learned how to teach undergraduate students (again, through trial and error), but most importantly I learned how to teach myself. I also learned HOW to learn.
Ask for help
You’re on your own, but it doesn’t always have to be this way. No one will approach you and offer help unless they know you’re struggling. Admit you don’t know something and ask your professor or colleague for assistance. Fck your pride and get what you need. Even if your professor yells at you and asks, “Did you even google?” (True story).
Pick your fights
Listen, I want to fight the sexist, racist system that tilts academia in favor of middle class white men. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic. Not only was this difficult as the only Black womyn in my department, it was distracting me from my work and I was getting a reputation for being… difficult. I resent it, but I retreated and became quieter and more agreeable. As a graduate student, and the only Black womyn, I never had the power to change the system. You’re free to bristle at this lesson… I let them silence me so I could get by and I’m not proud of it.
Believe in yourself. Always. Honestly. Truly. Be your biggest fan.
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