The Many Faces of Battle
One of the philosophies behind poststructuralism is that individuals are made of many different individuals – we choose to be different people, depending on our environment and who we are with.
For example, when we take on our virtual masks, we may present ourselves, or aspects of ourselves in very different ways than we would represent ourselves physically. Even physically, we are different people when we are say, at a board meeting versus in a family reunion!
As of late, I have kept much of my private battle with academia behind the scenes, but it has been a struggle. This face has been one that I have kept hidden until now. As a graduate student, I have been working on my comprehensive exams – a rigorous evaluation period where students are asked to write very deeply and knowledgeably about specific research topics. My topic just happens to be online learning and education!
Since April, I have been actively working on my comprehensives, or fondly known as “comps.” The process typically lasts from six months to a year for graduate students. During this time, I’ve learned so many things – not only about my subject matter, but about myself. As I continue on my journey through comps, I wanted to take this moment to pause, and reflect on some of the things I’ve learned – they are things they never tell you about graduate school, but I think that a lot of PhD students struggle with:
- You don’t know enough, and in everyone’s eyes, you are a rookie. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve spent in your field, or what you’ve done – when you begin your journey in graduate school, you begin again.
- Get used to feeling stupid. Everything you believed or knew when you started will never be or look the same – especially when you read, discuss and write about other peoples’ research, theories or ideas. They will always change your own – making them more three dimensional, and oftentimes, far more complex than you thought!
- You are always unsure, because you are learning about what you don’t know, and what you can do about it. It’s a very humbling experience to realize, almost every day, that you don’t know most things. …and just when you think you know something, along comes someone else who knows even more, and who will challenge you to stretch your mind, and your thinking. Grad school isn’t a place for close-minded people, or for people who think they know everything and are personally insulted when they are told they do not!
- You spend a lot of time inside of your head – it’s like you’re unraveling tangles upon tangles, and there’s some days when you don’t know where one tangle began, and the other one ended.
- It can make you irritable, and insecure. Oftentimes, I’m left to wonder whether I’m competent to do anything at all! But yet, there’s something about that insatiable thirst to understand, and that drive to do better. I want to change the world to make it better – that passion keeps me going, even though there are times when I throw pencils and want to quit. There’s no quitting.
- You must look in the dark and face your fears – laziness, hesitation, procrastination, ignorance… it’s not fun to constantly feel stupid, and so, there’s times when we must resist the temptation to do something…anything… to feel like we know something again!
I have friends who do not understand why I hesitate – especially because they know that I tend to be a very blunt, forward-thinking person. Yet, when it comes to comps, there are times when I have felt scared, because there is a very good chance I could fail. I tell them that comps are like going into a pit of snakes every day. You dread it. It’s not easy, it’s slow, and it’s not like anything you’ve ever done before – facing your stupidity at every sentence, and they expect you to be a snake charmer in the end.
Yet, after this third go – this next time around… the snakes… they don’t seem so bad, anymore. In fact, some of them are some of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen.