One of the things people failed to tell me about grad school is that nobody praises you. You could have an incredibly insightful reaction paper, a fantastic research paper, and amazing research ideas, but it doesn’t matter. I was given an amazing piece of advice this past summer from a professor in another department. He said that it was the one thing graduate students did that set themselves up for failure and strained relationships with professors and other students. He said “Every single person there is a badass. You are not special. Sure, you got into grad school, but so did everyone else in your cohort. You are all used to being the big dogs, but you’re not. Not yet anyway.”
That is so true! Keeping this perspective made the first semester survivable.
In undergrad, I was praised – probably too much. I know I was that student who went above and beyond what was expected. I took my work seriously. I wanted to learn everything I could in each and every class. My undergrad professor, mentor, adviser, and friend would basically praise me until he was blue in the face. It was exactly what I needed to convince myself that grad school was something I could and should do. There were times when I was clearly the only person prepared for class, and I was praised for it. I was held up as the shining example of what a student should do in class.
Grad school does not work that way. At all. I received a “good job” on a final paper and wanted to shout it from the rooftops. In one class, the highest I could get on a reaction paper was a 9/10 because he had only given out one 10/10 for a perfect paper in his career. It is very clear that no matter how good you are, it’s not great. You might be good, but eh…so is everyone else. I spent last semester in tears and stressed out because I was having praise withdrawals. I needed someone to tell me that I belonged there.
Semester 2 – I have been praised. One of my professors, who is the nicest guy on the planet, stopped into my office one day. In front of my office mate, he praised me in regards to my work and my participation in class. Once I picked my jaw off the floor, I thanked him and he left. My office mate spun around in his chair and was like “wow…what did you do to get praised? I’ve been here 4 years and have never had a professor say anything like that to me.”
A few days later, that same professor praises me again, this time in front of my office mate and another student (a year ahead of me). They have the same reaction. In the subsequent weeks, I hear from another student in class, that this same professor praised me (and her). Today, I was also praised when asking a question.
I really don’t know how to handle all of this praise and attention. What was once commonplace, but then became scarce, is now abundant again. It is the weirdest thing on the planet. I keep telling myself to take the praise, but I’m worried that I will soon get a target on my back. I absolutely LOVE my cohort, but I’m worried that they will start to resent me if they, themselves, are not getting this sort of attention as well.
In all fairness, maybe they would if they actually read and participated in class. I honestly think that’s why I get the positive feedback. I do the work. I speak up in class. They sit there looking around, hoping someone else will answer the questions. Well, now I feel justified. Look at how great cognitive negotiations are.