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A Grad Check In: Five Mason Grads Discuss Overcoming Obstacles

January 31, 2018

Happy second week of classes, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed your first weeks of class and are excited for the term, because we here at Mason Grad Insider are.

Before I write a blog post for a given week, I discuss the post’s topic with a group of fellow grads who work for Mason’s University Life in various departments. This week, I planned to write about general stumbling blocks graduate students often face, and as I turned to my friends for their thoughts and opinions, I realized what came from the discussions was even better. I liked the idea of giving the stumbling blocks a voice and some character, so y’all are getting to hear about five stumbling blocks these specific Mason grads have faced and how they’ve overcome them. Their thoughts are grouped into three categories: first, a lack of community and how to overcome that struggle; second, forming relationships with your professors and advisers; lastly, second-guessing yourself and your belonging in graduate school.

Let’s start with Rebecca and Lyla. They both found it hard to find a community and support in their first years of grad school. Rebecca is a Graduate Professional Assistant (GPA) for Patriot Experience, a unit with University Life, and is a Master’s student in the Communication Department. She related:

I had to learn to be okay being by myself. Like how in undergrad, most of your peers are coming from very similar backgrounds; however, in grad school, students are all at different places in life and that makes it hard to feel a sense of community. So, I guess I overcame it by finding friends at work and learning more about myself.

Like Rebecca, Lyla had a similar hurdle to jump. Lyla is a GPA for Student Involvement, a unit of University Life, and she is a Master’s Women and Gender Studies student, housed within MAIS. She stated:

One of the biggest hurdles academically is that MAIS doesn’t have cohorts. So, while I have figured out who is on the same path as I am, graduation-wise, it’s not as easy to have the camaraderie of the formal process. If you aren’t motivated to look for that support from peers it is easy to simply take classes and go home without making Mason home. It seems more social than academic, but having those connections really helps when it comes to class time and to doing things like making sure the right paperwork is turned in for administrative purposes, study groups, etc.

Here, both Rebecca and Lyla were looking for a sense of community. They both felt a sense of isolation and had to find their own paths. Rebecca found hers through her work and Lyla looked within her department and found who was going to graduate at the same time as her. What I think is important to take away from their thoughts is that a cohort or community is about having a sense of support and a group of friends to turn to when school gets hard, because—let’s be honest—graduate programs are tough and sometimes we need to take care of ourselves and focus on our own well-being. We can find this sense of community through cohorts structured by your graduate program or through tribes we create for ourselves (for more information on this topic, check out “My Cohort, My Tribe”).

Mary and Haziq’s stumbling blocks, while distinct and separate, were answered by forming relationships with their professors and advisers. Mary, who is also a GPA for Student Involvement, is also a Master’s student in Communication. Mary’s hurdle was forming relationships with her advisers and professors. She stated:

One hurdle was understanding how all the research and academia I was participating in would be useful in the practitioner’s world. There was a point in time where I felt like there wasn’t any value in my research, but all I had to do was be open with my professors about my doubts and they were able to share with me how their research is reflected in the real world. Building relationships with my professors has been the most valuable part of my graduate experience and without them I wouldn’t have found the drive to continue with my studies.

Haziq is the GPA for Peer Student Success, a unit of University Life, and is a Master’s student in in Mason’s Biodefense program. Haziq related:

I wonder if I am doing ok or all right in my program. We only have one grade a semester, or you have to wait a month or two to get the grades from a test or qualifying exam, you kinda have a mini-panic/freak-out moment. The best way I learned to cope with my anxiety was to form relationships with my professors and program adviser.

I think both Mary and Haziq brought up an important strategy: building relationships with our professors and advisers. Many of us may have learned to do this in undergrad, but as graduate students, these relationships are critical to both our academic and professional success. Your professors have a vested interest in your career development and well-being. They are there to help guide you towards your goals and advancements. Communication with them is key and you should open those channels early. For help with communicating with professors or how to make them your mentor, check out “Communicating with Your Professor” and “What to Look for in a Mentor.”

Lastly, we have Destiny, also a GPA for the Patriot Experience, who is a second year Master’s student in Higher Education and her hurdle of seconded guessing herself and does she belong in graduate school. She related:

My hurdle was second-guessing myself at the beginning of grad school. Actually, learning to believe and having faith in myself and my abilities. I know this is what I want to do, so I just have to commit and believe in myself.

This is called Imposter Syndrome and a plethora of students feel this way every year and every day. While talking to your professors and advisers is a big part of overcoming imposter syndrome, self-confidence and cutting yourself some slack is equally important. For more information on imposter syndrome and how to counter it, check out “Understanding Imposter Syndrome and What You Can Do About It.”

The lesson from these experiences is the value of connection. Grad school can be a challenge, and knowing that others have faced and overcome some obstacles can help us know we’re not alone and that we can make it, too. I know relying on hearing other’s experiences, both in my program and at work, has really helped me along the way. I hope you found this blog helpful and remember to check out next week’s blog. Have a great week!

Best,

Austin


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