A lot of us who end up in graduate school are here because we have excelled academically. So, it can be difficult to accept the inevitable – at some point in your graduate school experience, you will fail at something. Whether it be an essay, a comprehensive exam, a proposal defence, or even a simple self-set deadline – we will all fail at some point. And these failures are heartbreaking. They make you want to give up. They feed into the imposter syndrome that we all seem to struggle with. In short, it sucks.
I am not here to bum you out. Instead, I want to encourage you with the knowledge that you are not alone. Most everyone fails at something in graduate school. I certainly have. My proposal defence was pushed back by a month because I wasn’t adequately prepared. I left that meeting and cried, and a lovely friend ran to make me tea and comfort me. I felt like that setback meant that I wasn’t cut out for the PhD. But after I cried (more than once) I worked more on my proposal, and a month later I passed. Even though I passed, I received some criticism that was both valid, and hard to hear on a project that I had put so much work into. But having peers share how they also received similar critiques helped me to feel not alone.
Graduate school teaches you how to accept failures and criticisms. Those early setbacks were just a few in a long line of mistakes that I have made in my graduate school career. I have missed deadlines and completely forgotten whole topics. I have had to rewrite the same chapter 11 times, only to later cut it apart and salvage a small amount for another section. I am in year six of a degree that I was convinced would only take four years to complete. Sometimes setbacks are so severe, and so mentally draining that I have taken a whole month or more away from my dissertation. Graduate school is hard. Sometimes taking a step away is what is best, sometimes diving headfirst into your insecurities is what is best. I cannot tell you what works for your exact situation. But I can tell you that failure is part of growth, and that those failures do not make YOU a failure, they just show that you are trying.