Thursday, February 7, 2013

Overwhelmed by grad school? You've got company!

"The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: 'I'm a fraud! Oh God, they're on to me! I'm a fraud!' 

So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud." 
-Tina Fey, in The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It by Dr. Valerie Young

I'll try to not make this a FEELINGSBOMB. Comments are especially invited on this topic.

Man. This semester started being REALLY HARD in the second week. None of the actual work, taken by itself, is beyond me (although some requirements are a bit loftier than I've gotten used to), but it all seems to be happening all at once. When I do something for one course and it is difficult or time-consuming, I am overcome with the feeling that I really should only be doing one of these things (internship, research methods class, e-portfolio) at a time, on top of work. Putting more than one into a single semester all of a sudden seems ludicrous. I am trying to recall whether I've felt like this every semester. (I know I did last fall, but I was also having a wedding then. It's understandable. And I came through all right.) Was it this bad every time? How on earth did I manage?

I've already taken some serious steps to reduce the amount of... work(? stuff? commitment? responsibility?) I have to manage right now. (Even that sentence makes me feel like I look bad for complaining.) And I still don't feel like I can hack it. I'm feeling disorganized and behind schedule (behind already? Oh, guess what -- the e-portfolio isn't due at the end of the semester, it's due APRIL 15TH.) and kind of like a complete failure for thinking I could make this happen.

Pre-graduation is obviously a time of transition. Transition is also happening at work, although it hasn't yet become painful. I'm a newlywed who's thinking about adoption in a couple of years, and that adds to the life transition pressure. My Saturn Return has been pretty excellent so far, really. But I am suffering from serious imposter syndrome right now.

I was hoping that the e-portfolio would help with that; that the action of presenting ACTUAL EVIDENCE that I am competent at specific aspects of librarianship would be stabilizing. In some ways it is (or has been so far, as I've only cracked the surface), but I'm also weirdly terrified by the concept of the statements as answers to questions in one very long job interview. (Did I mention I am petrified of job interviews? I've had only a few over the years, and I did have one very good experience last year, which helped massively with my nerves.) I know I'll have scads of advice for students who have yet to complete theirs, like: learn what it is! (It could be my inexperience with the whole program at the time, but I don't recall much discussion of the e-portfolio in my LIBR 203 section, other than "This is how to save a file and access it later.") Find out the rules. Save different types of work. Save assignments and discussions as they're completed -- or least at the end of every class. Read examples if you can find them. Start sorting early. Maybe spend a week during break tagging all your artifacts and learning where your coverage is thinnest. Register for LIBR 289 ALONE, in one final term, if at all possible.

So, to be constructive: what can I do to avoid panicking?

  • these 6 things
  • maybe read this book
  • eat fruits and veggies (Seriously. This is one of the things that makes me feel cared for.)
  • sleep enough
  • find examples of my achievements and solicit constructive feedback/recommendations
  • make lists
  • schedule all my deadlines
  • block out time for specific tasks
  • don't plan too far ahead, BUT
  • visualize how success will impact my life in a month, at the end of the term, in six months, or at my first library job
  • put my head down and just do the next right thing
I could use some encouragement here. I know that I'm far from the only grad student who feels this way, but one of the drawbacks to being in a virtual program is that we don't necessarily hear about that. Isolation doesn't help normalize reactions to stress or overcome feelings of inadequacy. Have you been there? Are you there now? What's working for you? 


  1. I have spent most of my life fighting imposter syndrome including when I was doing grad school - I hear you. In my case surviving my last few years kicked that to the curb but I strongly suggest finding an alternative way to beat it :-)

    My career path has meant I am good at both helping people communicate their meanings/skills both face to face and in a document/portfolio and also coaching to get there. If, at any point, I can provide a fresh eye, listening ear or whatever ping me. I've just started a new job in North Beach so a hot tea or bite post work is easy to do.

    Remember, always believe in yourself because everyone else does!

    1. Thanks, Donna. I'd like to get together with you for a chat. I find that discussing "how to get X done" with people who know what they're doing -- and I definitely put you in that category -- to be very helpful. I'll message you to work out a good time. Congrats on the new job, btw!


Please be civil to other commenters.