27 May 2008

Reflections on Year 1

Hello Friends,

I survived Year 1 of my doctoral program! Though lacking in major travails or triumphs, it was nonetheless a year of adjustment and growth - socially, personally, academically. Just the other day, I realized that Minneapolis is the 5th city I have lived in the last 4 years (Evanston/Chicago, NYC, Boston, SF, Mpls). It has taken some getting used to the idea that I really am going to be here for the next four (or more?) years, but I am so relieved to feel like I can start to call a place home (though I still refuse to fork over my Illinois driver's license for a Minnesota one). Some of the most difficult adjustments have been personal - moving to a city where I knew literally one person, dealing with the loss of loved ones and relationships (including being single for the first time in my adult life, yikes), battling doubts of self-efficacy -which have definitely impacted my adjustment academically. There have been times that I doubted my choices leading me to this point. But ultimately, I prefer to strive towards growth, which is often preceded by discomfort and sacrifice (If only I could translate that to my exercise and nutrition life). I like to think of myself as living trial-by-error, always accumulating life lessons along the way.

I've already learned a few things thus far. I remember my advisor telling a group of us in September was that his advisor told him that, "You gotta fuck up at some point." Or at least it was something like that. I had a situation that I really felt like I fucked up this year, but I learned that it wasn't the end of the world. I learned about what I need to work on in the future and that it's better to ask for help than to fester in anxiety and self-doubt. Recently, I even began to see a narrative therapist (I will freely admit and do not want to perpetuate the stigma of counseling/therapy) who is helping me to better understand my relationship to Procrastination. But that's a whole 'nother topic for another time.

On a similar note, I learned that I need to develop my own set of standards for self-evaluation. Sometimes you want to know exactly what your professor or advisor is thinking of you so that you can see where you stand. But it is rare that they will offer the kind of validation that will vanquish the "Impostor Monster" (yes, I just made that up). In absence of that affirmation, I then turn to comparing myself to my peers. Well, that is certainly useless and further anxiety provoking because we all come from different places, do different things, and are dealing with different issues. Looks like I just gotta figure this stuff out for myself! That's probably one of the hardest things to accomplish, and I'm sure that I'll be working on it continually.

From the beginning, they tell you here, "No one is going to hold your hand." And that is true in a lot of ways; graduate school is an exercise in individualism and self-determination. That definitely runs counter to my personal living and learning style, but it is the reality of the academic world. I am continuously working to find a balance between those expectations and my own sense of being. As I look back, I realize that I need to be willing to be uncomfortable in order to learn valuable lessons, and this does not necessarily mean having to do everything alone. I am grateful for the tremendous support of my family, friends, and cohort who help me achieve my individual goals, even if they can't give me the answers or write my research proposals.

This first year in Minneapolis was like learning to crawl in many respects. I'm hoping that I can take the summer to gain the strength and courage to get on my own two feet and walk...hopefully by this time next year, I will have a gait of confidence, and within a few years, running without abandon (sorry, I love cheesy metaphors!).


GreenCutip said...

I'm glad you are getting more comfortable in MN. I like that you are so introspective, keep up the good work and remember to call now an then!

hrhdiana said...

Steph, I SO love this post. It resonates with my own first year experience in grad school, but with much more wisdom and verbal articulation than I could have gathered that year. I actually copied and pasted an excerpt to one of my first year friends here who is having a bit of a quarter life crisis (I hope you don't mind!). It is such an arduous journey to make it through a doctoral program, let alone develop yourself into a therapist. Let alone develop yourself into a researcher. Let alone develop yourself into an academician. I believe that you will truly feel accomplished and confident and energized by all that you have done, when you get to the internship phase-- at least that's where I've found myself, thankfully!

Steph said...

Thank you so much for your support! I am hoping that I will be a much wiser, more confident person when I get to where you are, Diana!