Friday, November 10, 2006

Humiliating grad school moment #32

I have this unfortunate character flaw that likes to catch me in professor's offices every now and again. I cry. I cry for reasons unrelated to the actual situation, but more to do with nerves, self-defense and power imbalace (I suspect).

Here's the story.

I went to see my advisor/research employer/professor about my final course paper for her class just to run some ideas by her. All was fine until she asked, with a rather doubtful tone, "do you like grad school?" "No." I answered, and promptly started crying. The thing is that I don't necessary hate grad school, and things have actually been going alright lately, but I have this response ready for whenever I'm asked. And it's true that I don't love it. My point is that it's no crying matter for me.

So we had this long conversation where she seemed to bask in the glory of therapist role-taking. And I couldn't get control of my emotions. She asked me surprisingly personal questions that I (perhaps less surprisingly) answered truthfully. Are you depressed? No! Are you going to drop out? No! Do you have a low self-esteem? No! Are you socially incompetent? No!

The idea that I may even come across as any of these things is demoralizing for me. The only one I can understand is the self-esteem one, because I feel this unlike-me feeling of timidness sweep over me when I'm in school. Even my posture and facial expressions feel meek and I hate it. I generally have a fine self-esteem and particularly after returning from Korea I felt more self-assured than ever.

I suppose it was only logical for her to connect the tears to depression.

She also asked this: what makes you happy? And this is the crux of the problem. I don't know. I am unmotivated in school because nothing blows my mind. I am a flat line. I feel like I've tried hard to find what drives me but to no avail and at this stage a driving force is necessary to continue. How can I find passion?

There are some people around me who appear to totally immerse themselves in school and their work, which is noble, but not something I am capable of or interested in. I, however, seem to have kept school at a distance and am doing the bare minimum to get by. I need to become engaged.

Overall she was actually rather encouraging, assuring me that I am a good student who is doing well and that many people feel this way around this time. We came up with a plan for the research paper and my RA work that hopefully will work. She said that most people really get excited when they have the opportunity to attend a conference and present a paper. So that's that.

One of you suggested that I worry not about grades or impressing people but about learning, growing, and creating work that I can make use of. I don't think I'll be able to do this until I find what makes me happy.


At November 10, 2006 5:37 p.m. , Anonymous seadragon said...

Ah, how many times have I cried in front of my professors. I can think of three different professors I have broken down in front of, and oh how I wish I could take it back!! I mean, I wasn't THAT upset, but yeah the thing about heightened nerves and self-defense in a meeting like that...

As for your general unhappiness, it seems to me that it's perfectly normal to be distraught when you can't even figure out what makes you happy anymore! I do find it interesting that so far, grad school hasn't been it. I hope you do find something that really catches your interest - I have seen it go both ways for people. So both are possible!!

Anyway grad school is just so consuming that it can override the simpler pleasures and then if you're not happy with the day-to-day things it's all that much harder because it's all you have to do.

Just hang in there through the semseter... it could be just that these particular courses and projects you're involved in are not grabbing you, but you may still find your niche.

Do you even remember now what made you apply to this program? What kinds of things you thought you'd be working on? Do you remember what was interesting about them? And if you're not doing any of those things now, could you find a way to make them happen in the future?

At November 10, 2006 9:09 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your unhappiness stems from no longer being in Korea. Let's face it sister--you're missing the row after row of identical apartment blocks. And who can't help but yearn for the puddles of fresh vomit on the sidewalks every morning and the witch-like cackling of the gap-toothed ajumas? I know, it's hard to walk away from it, but you were strong enough to do're strong enough to survive Grad school. I mean think about this one--you traveled weeks in SE Asia without being violently attacked or becoming a drug mule! And that's more than a lot of people can say. You can do it!

I the past couple of years, when were you happiest and what were you doing? Other than time spent with me at the RMT i mean;)

Well i'm outtie...gonna try and get into Seoul today.


PS, who was it that sent you that email about your guitar? That's a pretty odd thing to bitch aboutmonths after the fact and thousands of miles away eh?

At November 11, 2006 6:27 a.m. , Blogger Tony Lawless said...


I think that there are about five or six questions that we have to solve in life in order to be happy. Some of the most important of these questions are: Where does my money come from? Who can I love? Who can love me? Who are my friends? What do I want to do with my life?

The trouble with this list is that the one about money tends to influence most of the others unduly. In your case, one of the reasons that you are in grad school is to get a good job and thus make money. And yet right now, you don't think that this is necessarily what you want to do with your life.

I think the tears are a result of you trying to think very logically about what you want and thus inevitably suppressing the emotional aspect of this question! That -- and looking at this professor and thinking: Am I gonna be in her shoes one day? Do I want to be? Do I want to be in my shoes right now?

You are now seen as an intellectual-in-training, someone whose job it is to produce ideas for a living, and yet you don't know if you want to be this. And to top matters off, last year, you were a teacher. And now you are a student again. This can be a source of stress and resentment.


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