doctoral stress, or, “goodbye to my wonderful friends and family”

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

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.


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