In Which We Discuss Throwing In the Towel, and the Wisdom of Alanis Morissette

Grad school sucks sometimes.

Keep your chin up, read on for positive encouragement, and try not to think about how this iconic cat has probably been dead for years by now.

It’s true that we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t see the value and enrichment of our PhD education, but sometimes the weight of your assorted responsibilities gets overwhelming and you feel like throwing in the towel and finding a mindless 9 to 5 so you can stop questioning your own intellectual abilities. It happens to all of us at some point, and it’s a sign that you’re doing something right.

What’s the impetus for this post?

We’re a pretty well-connected program, technologically and interpersonally (to each other, mind you, not to the Rhode Island mafia or anything). As avid users of social media, many of us find a group catharsis in tweeting the shared growing pains of progressing through the program. So, when one of our own posted a tweet a few days ago that smacked of “I’ve reached a breaking point,” in came the sage and extended reply of fourth-year-and-been-there Dawn Shepherd.

Dawn was kind enough to allow us to feature her own blog post in which she relates to the issues of identity crisis and overwhelmed-ness that she recognized in her fellow CRDMer:

One of the reasons graduate school is so completely ego ravaging is that it’s a struggle to assume a new identity (PhD student) only to be forced out of it. The goal of being a graduate student is not being a graduate student anymore. Once you get comfortable as a successful seminar participant, you’ve finished your coursework. Once you figure out how to succeed with taking preliminary exams, you will (hopefully!) never take another exam. All the while, you’re also trying on different scholarly identities, donning different cloaks of thought. If you’re in an interdisciplinary program (like me), your academic closet is of the walk-in variety, the kind that gets special attention in real estate listings, perhaps even multiple photos in the virtual tour. Playing dress-up is fun, but when it comes to determining the uniform of your life’s work, it can be anxiety inducing as well.

Another ego-ravaging part of this process is that fact that we spend almost all of our time with really smart people–people we usually think are smarter than we are. That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t matter. Comparing yourself to others is, at best, unproductive. More than likely, comparing yourself to classmates or scholars in your field or Charlie Sheen is going to make you feel like a fraud, a sham, a loser. How do I know this? Because we’ve all done it, and we tend to compare ourselves to others when we’re feeling especially low. The only comparison you can make in which all variables are accounted for and all playing fields are equal is to yourself. Every now and then, revisit where you were when you started. Reread your thesis. I think you’ll surprised, both by how good it was and by how much better you are now.

I’d offer a tl;dr version of the rest of her post but that wouldn’t do justice to its delightfully winding prose. In it, Dawn acts the part of Mickey Goldmill in Rocky III, reminding us that no matter how hard the semester hits, “ya gotta get in there!” and hit right back.

In real life, Dawn is entirely more youthful though every bit as intense.

So, heed Dawn’s encouragement and don’t, as Ms. Morissette has cautioned, let it be the good advice that you just didn’t take.

(It may only loosely meet the definition of ironic, but at least it nails the mid-90’s nostalgia. Don’t cha think?)

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