Why a Professional Support Network is Important

Sitting on the RamVan recently, I was surround by Gabelli undergraduates (I could tell because one of them was dressed in a three-piece suit). All of them were discussing internships– how they got them, where they’re interviewing, how they’re prepping– and the benefits and drawbacks of various placements.

And it got me thinking… I don’t remember that kind of practical sharing and support as an graduate student here. That’s not to say that those of us in the humanities or social sciences don’t support one another, but I think we want to do so as scholars. We talk about our research interests or intellectual theories and discuss mentors and academic experiences. I think it is less natural for us to automatically jump to talk about jobs and careers.

A lot of that worry stems from our feeling that we’re impostors– academic frauds who are not as worthy or as knowledgeable as our colleagues (check out this great overview of impostor syndrome from CalTech). If we are anxious and less-than in the classroom, how much farther behind are we on the job market? What can we offer?

But the best part of the conversation going on around me on the van yesterday wasn’t the interviewing tips (honestly they were nothing special) but how relieved the students sounded after explaining their anxieties. They bounced ideas off of each other and were open about how much work they had and the pressure they were all feeling to succeed.

We all have to work hard. And while I think that in grad school, working hard is normalized and working “for” the degree is expected, in my experience most students also want to be the naturally quick and intelligent person. We want to skim, not have to read the book; understand the problem sets in class the first time; write a dissertation chapter quickly– we want to have the answers, not admit that we’re worried we may have the wrong ones.

But asking the question, admitting gaps in our knowledge and confidence, is just as important, especially if you can do so within a trusted peer group. As summer approaches and things calm down, many people us the break to reconnect with research partners or cohort members– if you can, also use it as a time to discuss anxieties or talk through problems. You might be surprised that your peers are struggling with the same issues.

  • Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14

 

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