Perfectionist gridlock is being stuck in place for fear of not doing something at the highest level of excellence. It plagues many grad students, perhaps especially those in the humanities. It is bred by the culture of academia, which places a high value on achievement and critique.
Perfectionist gridlock is particularly debilitating in dissertation writing and career decision making.
Traffic gridlock resolves itself slowly, inch by inch. Likewise, students can come unstuck by moving forward in baby steps.
Should grad students compile their own CV of Failures and what should it include? That was my question when I read about Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer posting his CV of Failures (or Shadow CV).
YES! is my answer. Maybe I love this idea because my career has been littered with job loss, abandoned projects, disappointments, and tears. These days, I am helping teach workshops applying design thinking (“fail early and often”) to grad student’s lives and career planning.
An immunologist and science policy analyst, Dr. Kenneth (Kenny) Gibbs offers three pieces of advice for graduate students. These are his views alone and do not represent official views of the NIH or National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), where he is currently working as a Program Analyst in the Office of Program Planning, Analysis and Evaluation. His opinions were shaped in grad school and by his research on STEM Ph.D. and postdoc career decisions.
Kenny offers three pieces of advice.
- Remember that Ph.Ds. are beginnings not endings.
- Go to a school and work with an advisor where you can see yourself doing well as a person.
- Manuscripts (and theses) only get written when you write them.
“I don’t want to be a faculty member.” This realization dawned during the first two years of Stacy Hartman’s PhD program. Forthrightly, she told one of her faculty advisors, who encouraged her to explore other options. Today, after finishing her PhD in German Studies in five years, she is leading the Connected Academics program for the Modern Language Association. Located in New York City, the MLA is the professional association for scholars in English studies and modern languages. But bear in mind that the advice Stacy offers is her own, not the MLA’s.
Stacy offers three pieces of advice for graduate students:
- Manage your time. Your day-to-day time, but also your time in graduate school.
- Talk to people. Lots of people. Lots of different kinds of people.
- Do what you need to do to feel positively about yourself. A positive attitude toward your job search is not only helpful but necessary.
Fraud. Fake. Phony.
Despite being one of only a few people admitted to grad school in a highly competitive process. Despite many academic and professional successes. Despite exceeding the expectations of grad school.
Charlatan. Sham. Incompetent.
A surprising number of graduate students, particularly women, feel like they are undeserving of the successes they have had. They fear being discovered as the impostors that they believe that they are. (Wrongly.)
Loser. Idiot. Deceiver.
There is a name for these feelings: The Impostor Phenomenon or Impostor Syndrome. This particularly affects high achieving women. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce these feelings. You can feel as accomplished as you really are.
Feelings are the last to change. Start by changing your thoughts and behaviors.
You are the only person in your graduate program who doesn’t understand how things work.
That might be what you observe. That might be how you feel. But it isn’t true.
Academic culture is riddled with those who bluff when they don’t know something. Acting confident and competent even when you don’t feel that way can be a useful strategy on some occasions. But not all of the time. It is also important to share your questions and confess your doubts. Continue reading