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Bigger Pictures: So Now You’re a Grad Student

Students Studying

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

                                                                                                                                              ~  Albert Einstein

Welcome to the next stage of your education.

Over the last couple weeks, chances are you’ve probably noticed that a few things are different. You probably noticed that you feel different– and not necessarily in good ways.  Let’s take a gander, why don’t we, at one of the more insidious.

You may have noticed what can best be described as a creeping insecurity.  This probably happened when, in a flash of self-awareness, you realized that all you know is how much you don’t know.  You sense it when you’re reading, you feel it during class discussion, you wrestle with it in the middle of the night when you can’t get to sleep because how can you possibly sleep when there’s so much you don’t know that you should know, and you should have made yourself somehow know all that stuff years ago before you got to the point where all these people you don’t even know are going to know precisely how much you don’t know.

Sound familiar?

First, take a deep breath.

What you’re experiencing is known as imposter syndrome.  There is some debate as to whether you were issued it when you got your PennCard, or if you picked it up during orientation.  In any event, rest assured, you are not alone.

Consider:  Your learning curve is steepest at the start of a program, even if you have an undergrad’s background in the discipline.  This may strike you as even more dispiriting, but just take it as a simple sign of the depth you’ll be required to go to in your graduate work.  There’s no need to turn practical self-evaluation into personal self-flagellation.

Many people wind up in graduate school because somewhere along the line they got really good at school.  They learned how to learn.  School became an arena of success.  This doesn’t make them immune to imposter syndrome.  Other people wind up in grad and professional programs because they see no alternative if they hope to continue along a particular career trajectory.  Among these folks you’ll find people who may not believe that they were ever good at school, but they know they have to suck it up and do what they have to do, which means going back to school, a place where they feel they don’t belong.   If you fall into this category, you’re more than likely experiencing imposter syndrome with a particularly nasty bite.  But you can always learn to learn better.

As I always say, you know where to find us.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

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