Kicking Grad School Mentality

Kicking Grad School Mentality | New Faculty


Some of you might be saying, “NOOOOOOOOOO” and giving this post the big middle finger, or maybe both. In this case, you keep hanging on to those middle fingers while you read this post. I can handle your grievance…..later šŸ˜‰

Seriously, let’s talk about grad school mentality. There are some things that are hands down, abso-freakin-lutely wonderful about grad school and the lifestyle it gives you. I will not contest the expansion of your giant brain, intellectual conversations, grad student mixers, the 20 hr. a week GRA/GA/GTA, the creation of ones’ own schedule, constant company of other (suffering) grad students, and endless supplies of coffee.

But when we get down to the nitty gritty–grad school sort of sucked. We’re broke (as a joke), it’s the never ending cycle of “acceptance” and “rejection” like a roller coaster that everyone wants to get off but no one can get it to stop, and many grad students will openly admit how lonely, isolating, and desolate grad school can be.

I’ve observed several students successfully defend their dissertations now and…..STALL. Like a car that needs to have its’ carburetorĀ checked. Even after that successful defense, the plethora of congratulations, and well wishes from friends, we sometimes….just get STUCK.


I found myself in a bit of a pit for a good nine months, unable to muster my own confidence to talk the talk I’d been learning about for the previous three years. Sometimes, it’s bigger than that.

  • We get comfortable being a ‘certain way.’ It’s easy sometimes to stay this way.
  • Our friends are in grad school. Our social circle is there. Getting to know new people is tough. Even when we join faculty, our age demographic is often grad students. Even if we move 3400 miles to join faculty, we gravitate towards them for reasons we cannot fathom (and some are truly awesome human beings).
  • The research wasn’t perfect. We forget that grad school is an exercise in becoming a better researcher, not a perfect researcher. And we beat ourselves up over it. Mentally. Forever.
  • We do lack confidence.Ā <—#1 right here people–>Ā We feel intimidated by the ‘seasoned veterans’ in our field, in our office, at our mtgs., etc…This is just going to take some courage to jump in feet first. You may fumble, but you will get your sea legs under you.

It’s an attitude we have. We have not made the cognitive leap towards equal and have stalled cognitively.

It’s all in our head. We are capable, even if we don’t feel like it.

As we get ready to usher in our new students, I urge you to think about your mentality as a former grad student, a fresh post-doc, or a new faculty member. You can kick that old mentality out of your head, it just takes some time and patience. It doesn’t mean that your undergrad and grad students aren’t wonderful, lots of fun, and amazing, but it does mean making the cognitive leap to equal in the faculty community, even if you don’t always feel like it. Some make the transition much more smoothly than others, but you will find that after a while, you’ll want to as well. Staying stuck in grad school mentality begins to be a big let down instead of an ego-booster. You’ll know this because your grad students may start to drive you a little bonkers–that’s the first clue you’re making the cognitive shift. Don’t fight it-just go w/ it!

  • Admit when you’re having a ‘grad school moment.’
  • Acknowledge that the thought is there.
  • Reframe your thinking to turn it into a faculty thought.
  • Find a faculty mentor, find several.
  • Meet with them and discuss the cognitive dissonance you might feel.
  • They will offer up suggestions (if they’re good) on how to make the leap.
  • Be patient, it doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.
  • Be mindful about it. Yes, grad students are great, but NO, you are NOT a grad student anymore! It may sound harsh, but the old saying of “we become who we surround ourselves with” can be true. You want to feel like an equal, start cultivating relationships with those equals. Remember my writing group? The faculty in that are also newer faculty members. We’ve discussed this struggle openly and it’s a real ‘thing’ that does exist.

What other tips would you offer to help kick ‘grad school mentality’ as we start a fresh academic year?

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One thought on “Kicking Grad School Mentality

  1. […] discussed boundaries with grad students before and kicking grad school mentality. It can be really difficult. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we always end up with a grad student […]

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