Dear Graduate.

We are getting to the time of the year when our fourth year students are starting to panic. Life as an undergraduate is going to end soon and the questions of “what are you going to do when you are done” have already begun. I know this because I was once there and the number of conversations I have had the past week are about future plans coming from the future graduate.  Sure, most students have plans but the continuation of those plans require being granted an interview followed by the dreaded wait period for acceptance or not into the dream program.  Although I would love all of my students to get into their dream program after the first try, it just isn’t reality. So a number of students every year need to have plan B, ….and C and.. you know, back-ups.

I think about my path to becoming  a faculty member and it certainly wasn’t straight nor was it even what I expected as a career. Many students have asked me how I got to where I am and I’ve been honest, it was stressful, it was serendipitous and it was a lot of hard work.  Leading up to now, I washed dishes, I cleaned tables, I asked if patrons wanted cheese on their garlic bread, I took hard courses that hurt my head, I took courses that I thought would be easier and they weren’t….and I studied a lot.  There were very many times when what I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing but what I needed to do. I needed to earn money to pay for tuition, I needed to learn more than just science (even though that was all I wanted to learn), and I needed to do the tough jobs on the way to the jobs I really wanted to do.  The career path isn’t usually straight anymore for anyone.  It’s certainly disconcerting and there is a level of faith that everything is going to work out, but please don’t sit and do nothing while you wait for what you want to do.  If you have never had a job, get one. If you need to do research to learn and appreciate research, do it. If you have to work late with little to no thanks, you know you did a good job. Be thorough, be responsible, be a worker. Some day, that will all pay off. To this day, I am thankful I worked picking tomatoes for a summer and that I was cleaning tables when all of my friends were going to the movies on Friday nights. It taught me so much and I am certain I wouldn’t be nearly as good at my current job had I not gone through those other experiences.

So dear graduate, you too will get to a place of thankfulness and reflection on these last fleeting months of the school year. And you will miss these days of not knowing the future. If you are not given an interview it will be a terrible heartache but perhaps some day you will look back and say that you are glad things worked out the way they did. If you do get an interview, don’t rub it in to others who haven’t. It isn’t kind and you could very easily have been in the opposite situation.  Best wishes to you all.

5 Comments

  1. Today I had a presentation and had the worst nervous breakdown I have ever experienced. I literally blanked out. Generally I get extremely anxious whenever I do any public speaking. I am the type of person who wants to ask a question in class but then never does because all I do is rehearse the question in my head and wonder if it sounds stupid. I think of all the possible ways to answer the question myself, just so I don’t ask a ‘stupid’ question. Something about hearing my voice in a room of so many strangers just makes me so anxious I can’t control it.

    And so today I had a nervous breakdown, even though I knew exactly what to say and rehearsed the same presentation perfectly with my group. All I could think about was how this grade would affect my GPA, and consequently my chances of getting into a professional school, not to mention how embarrassed I felt standing in front of my peers. Although I acknowledge that one presentation won’t be the end of the world, it is so hard to stop thinking about how I let my group members down, and how I let myself down. My dream is to be an optometrist, but it scares me so much to think about what I could possibly do for a backup plan simply because I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. Your words of wisdom have really helped me, and it reminds me that I should keep working hard, but sometimes I just get so stressed purely from my habit of overthinking.

    • I can totally understand how it is paralyzing when something doesn’t go as well as we had hoped (in the midst of it not going well…). I had a terrible time in a lecture a few weeks ago. I completely blanked…in front of 500+ students. Instead of thinking about how it would affect my GPA, I was panicking how I would be perceived by students. Would they think I was not smart enough? Would they write about how terrible I was on twitter or text their friends on how I tanked a lecture? Would they think I didn’t prepare (when I usually over prepare). It’s completely paralyzing and so tough to deal with. It took me a good week to go over it. I’m glad my words were helpful. But you are certainly not alone. Also, you were probably absolutely fine in your presentation! I know a pause can feel like eons in our own brains, but that won’t tank your GPA, and it doesn’t reflect on your preparation. It was simply nerves and it gets the best of ALL of us.

      • Wow, thank you so much Dr. Woods! You really made me feel 10.000x better! You are so inspirng. One day I will inspire others the way you do.

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