We spent part of Saturday at my oldest kid’s dance recital. While I enjoyed the show, my third child thought it was a bit repetitive — a series of “teenagers in black dancing to sad songs” interspersed with “little girls in pink sparkles” hopping around to more upbeat tunes. We talked about how dance is a way to express feelings through movement, and that feelings tend to get more complex as we get older (hence, the teens expressing angst onstage!).
I was actually part of the same recital for a few years, pre-pandemic. The studio offered a beginning tap dance class for adults that overlapped with the classes my kids were taking, so I joined in the fun. There’s something very satisfying about the clickity-clack of dancing in tap shoes, and something very grounding about learning something new, and learning to be satisfied with my best effort — even though the results were far from perfect. When my class decided to wear slogan tees as our costumes for the recital, I proudly picked out one that proclaimed me as the “World’s Okayest Tap Dancer!”
Middle-aged-me was comfortable setting goals that revolved around just doing my best, in a way that would never have satisfied grad-school-me. I was the classic over-achieving oldest child growing up, and after graduating at the top of my high school class I headed to college with the same determination and focus to achieve. I was the student who not only read the textbook, but outlined every assigned chapter; I took notes by hand during class (no laptops or tablets in those days!) and then retyped them on my desktop computer back at the dorm; I made hundreds of flashcards and studied for weeks before big exams.
All that work paid off in many ways: I earned two undergrad degrees and an NSF graduate research fellowship, which paid for my MS and PhD. But in other ways I missed out: I said “no” to a lot of potentially fun adventures, declined some opportunities that would have meant less time for my studies, and when it came time to get a “real” job I had a hard time accepting that my goals had changed, and that in my heart I wanted to take a spot at a non-profit that had nothing to do with my graduate degrees (and wasn’t going to pay anywhere near what I could make with a PhD in industry).
This week, I’m sharing some resources for helping to figure out your own boundaries and paths as you navigate graduate school and think about what life will look like afterwards.
Three Things to Try This Week
Practice Perseverance — earning a graduate degree takes a lot of effort and some grit, particularly when the lecture doesn’t make sense or the research stalls or you’ve got a stack of midterms to grade at the same time you’re preparing for comps. Persistence is a skill that can be strengthened with practice, though; consider these ideas for building your own stick-to-it-ivness.
Replan as Needed — sometimes the right choice is to do something else, whether you’re stuck on a research direction that isn’t proving fruitful, or in a job that is no longer fulfilling. Making the decision to change course can be hard, particularly for those of us with the focus and persistence to pursue graduate studies. Consider this advice about figuring out when to persist, and when to move on.
Give yourself Grace — none of us are perfect, and some days go more smoothly than others (especially in grad school!). Taking a break, caring for yourself, and giving yourself permission to pause and try again later can help reduce stress and overwhelm, and make your graduate school experience (and life!) more manageable. Consider these small, practical ways to give yourself a break.
- Check out the list of PhD Final Defenses on our website, and consider logging in or stopping by to support your fellow graduate students! Final defense presentations are open to the public and can be a great way to learn about innovations in your field (and also get a sense of what you might need to prepare for your own defense, one day!).
- Graduating this summer? If you’re completing a thesis/dissertation, be sure that you submit the final document to the Graduate School well in advance of the August 24 (5:00pm Eastern) deadline to have all requirements fully met. More details and deadlines for future semesters can be found on the Graduate School’s website: https://grad.msu.edu/etd/etd-deadline-dates
- COGS (Council of Graduate Students) is hosting a Leadership Workshop about self-advocacy skills on June 22; learn more and register here: https://grad.msu.edu/events/cogs-leadership-workshop-skills-self-advocacy