Graduate school was also one of the most dispassionate, ruthless challenges that I’ve faced. Amidst the building of warm memories and lasting friendships, I questioned my capacity to succeed for years on end, snot cried in more than one faculty member’s office, and did so while chronically deprived of both sleep and income.
Since graduate school, I’ve had ample opportunity to think about, and observe in the graduate students that I’ve trained, what the things are that help students thrive by having more of the beautiful moments and less of the ruthless ones. I can say with confidence that thriving in graduate school requires dedicated work, done consistently, over years. While students must work out their own equation for thriving, that equation includes at least two variables: A beginner’s mindset, and a commitment to healthy and balanced living.
The first variable, a beginner’s mindset, is the fundamental acceptance that you are in graduate school to learn from people with more experience than you. The vast majority of people in graduate school—including you—have beautiful, capable minds. In most cases, what sets your senior colleagues’ and faculty’s minds apart is not having greater capability, but having acquired experience by failing more times than you have ever tried. Your most successful senior colleagues and faculty have used these experiences to learn how to better and more efficiently deploy their beautiful minds. Listen and learn from these folks, they can spare you difficult learning experiences that will challenge your sense of worthiness.
The second variable is a commitment to healthy living. The dispassionate and ruthless elements of graduate school can be incredibly stressful, and are experienced during long hours of difficult work in challenging environments where you have limited control. The likelihood that you’ll thrive is higher when you prioritize self-care. Make time for those things that will increase your chances of thriving amidst stress. If you don’t take care of your physical health, make it a priority. If your emotional health has been a problem, look for help. If you are disorganized (or a perfectionist), learn to plan efficiently. Providing you with an orientation to the resources that can help you make any of these changes would take up an entire blog post; however, my main point is that each change is achievable, and each will increase your chances of thriving in graduate school.
I hope that at the end of your graduate journey you find yourself rendered a better professional and person. I hope that this happens amidst beautiful memories and friendships. I know that your journey will at times be dispassionately ruthless. I know also that showing up humbly and committing to caring for yourself will make those parts rarer and more bearable. Wherever that beautiful, ruthless journey takes you, I look forward to seeing you, smiling and proud, on the other side.