So I’m starting my graduate program now, and my goal at this point is to not die of stress. The degree is at this point incidental. I read a couple of books on having a sane and smooth PhD program, and found the most disturbing, and patently impossible, statistic:
On a standard stress rating scale, where the death of a spouse is 100, the average first-year doctoral student rates their stress at 313. (Valdez, Ramiro. “First-Year Doctoral Students and Stress.” College Student Journal, 1982, 16: 30-37.)
At first I joked about this obviously ridiculous statistic. Then, because I am a geek, I looked up the study. Yeah, ok it’s pretty small-scale and it was from 30 years ago. Still…
I am already feeling worried.
- I worry that I won’t be able to juggle work and school, much less my family.
- I worry that I’ll be stupid compared to the other students (damned impostor syndrome).
- I worry that I’ll be poor(er).
- And fat(ter).
- And my eyes will actually explode from all the reading (even though I read journal articles for fun.)
- I worry that I’ll be a terrible PA.
- Or that I’ll be one of the students spoken about in hushed tones by faculty as “not doing a good program,” whatever that means.
- I worry that I won’t have suitably doctoral clothes and look too casual, to dressy, or (even worse) like the other students’ mom.
- I worry that two months before I finish my dissertation someone else will publish the exact same thing, or that the topic (so obscure now) will become commonplace and mundane and I’ll look like a trailing-after-the-bandwagon loser.
- I worry that I won’t actually understand advanced research methods and people will notice.
- I worry that I won’t find cheap parking.
- I worry that I will have opportunities that I can’t afford to take.
- I worry that I will bring shame to my adviser, that my adviser won’t be helpful, that I won’t have an adviser, that my adviser won’t hold off the sharks in the rest of my committee, that my adviser will be the shark in my committee.
- I worry that my laptop will die.
- I worry that my capacity for “faking it til making it” will desert me.
- I worry that my lack of worry about asking stupid questions in seminars will make the others feel I’m not taking things seriously, or that I am actually stupid, or that I should be returned to high school (because I never did graduate from high school. Oops.) and this reveals that the non-worry is actually worry AND me lying to myself.
- I worry that I will be a lousy librarian and lousy student because I can’t give 100% of my energy to either task.
- I worry that my husband will forget what I look like and my children will speak of me as if I am dead.
I’m not saying all this so anyone reassures me (please don’t). And I certainly don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me (like you would–I chose this idiotic path after all). I just want anyone who ever joins such a program and somehow stumbles upon this blog to know–YOU are not alone. Because evidently everyone feels most of this most of the time (N=the 3 people I’ve talked to). These worries are all ego garbage, but I think you must be egomaniacal to want to get a PhD in Information. Or any PhD. So I have revealed my shallow non-depths. I’m sure you’re not surprised.
(BTW, if you feel pity or something and you’re aching to help me out, here are a few gift ideas. I especially love the coffee bucks and journal subscription ideas. I would like Libraries Quarterly, please. AND.)
On the plus side, I found that my first research article has been accepted. It’s actually a two-part article and the first part was accepted as written (which is bizarre, I can’t imagine there was nothing improvable in it) and the second part with revisions, which I turned around in under 24 hours (even though it involved 5 hours of painstaking table creation). Yet seeing the email from the editor in my inbox caused stress. That sort of “oh dear deity-of-your-choice I am terrified to open this email, I shall proceed to do other things for five minutes until I can’t stand it anymore” stress. And my stomach had actual butterflies (anise swallowtails, I believe). Even good things now cause unforeseen quantities of stress.
So, to sum up, right now I am worried about my “first day” which is technically on Wed., but I have meetings and orientations on Monday (i.e. tomorrow) and Tuesday but I still feel like this:
By this time next year I expect to look like this:
(cartoons thanks to a funny blog at http://public.randomnotes.org/richard/PhDtalk.html)
Most of all of this talk of worry is to make apparent to the people who tolerate me, that I’m sorry in advance. I love you, I am stressed about missing you already, I am concerned I will be a terrible mother/relative/friend. I feel I can do nothing about this. And I hope you understand.
See you in a few years.