We did the year, we had May and half of June to recuperate, and here we are, reflecting. It brings me to a bit of a loss for words because, as I look down at this 7-year path behind me, it looks like a squirrel foraging and burying nuts, for 7 years. It’s messy in the trenches. Would I have done thingsad differently? My goodness gracious, yes.
It’s not you, it’s grad school
I could never tell if grad school was this crazy weird vortex where nothing I did was good enough just because of grad school, or if it was because I wasn’t good enough to be in grad school, or if I was just taking things too personally. At this point, it’s still all too wound together to untangle, but since being on residency I’ve gotten to hear the perspectives of clinicians who have been out of grad school for a while, and this is what the their stories have taught me: Grad school is set up to push us beyond our limits (and not always with our best interests in mind), and how we deal with that fact makes the difference between a good experience and a bad one. Grad school is rewarding in its ways, but there’s a lot of discomfort. When I started everyone told me, “it’s not undergrad anymore, don’t focus on grades as though they’re the most important”. I wish someone had told me, “this isn’t high school anymore, don’t focus on pleasing people as though it’s the most important thing”. Presumably, you chose your program because there’s something about it that fascinates you. If I could do things differently, I would have kept that at the front of my mind every day.
If you can’t do it, someone else can
I made that sound like I think one should dish their work off onto someone else. I did that on purpose, for the comedy. What I really mean is, I didn’t ask for help very often, and when I did I waited much too long, until I was in a hellova jam. There are people in your department and there are services set up by SGS specifically to help us develop the skills we need to succeed. If you don’t know what they are, comb through our years of Gradifying posts and you’ll find all of them (SGS funds this blog, wink wink). If I could do things differently, I would have picked at least one seminar/workshop/service per month as a habit to attend. Oh, and there is also your academic supervisor. If I could do things differently, I would have parked the fear that exposing my incompetence to colleagues and friends to the side and embraced what I came here to do, learn.
Take it easy, on the regular
When I said above that my route through grad school looks like a squirrel’s breakfast run, what I mean is, I see chaos. I felt unhinged much of the time, but I now don’t think that it had to feel like that. If I could do things differently I would have chosen a couple of things per week to go to that things that I most wanted to do, and I would have set boundaries that protected them. Yes, they would make me a better student in the end, but more to the point, it would be really nice.
If I could do things in grad school differently, I would have been saying the following to myself: Take care of yourself. There may be a lot of people who want you to be well so that you can be the best student you can be, but you may only meet a very few (if any) people during grad school who will be looking out for you as a person. I don’t mean this in a cynical way, just that academia is a big machine and everyone with authority over you has an interest in it ticking along, as they should, because that’s their job. If you want to feel like more than a student, treat yourself like more than a student, and don’t wait for someone else to do it.
My do-differently list has a lot to do with mindset, and I think it’s because grad school is a special place requiring a deliberate mindset. I’m itching to know what folks out there would do differently…