I was chatting up a grad student last week, she had just passed her prelims and was moving forward with her prospectus presentation. She was lamenting that her “friends” in the program were all behind her. I know some of her cohort members and they’re behind in their programs for a reason: because they just are.
I reminded the grad student that she should stop comparing herself to others and worry about her own timeline. Her program has a typical three year trajectory and she’s on target to complete in the three years. Her ‘friends’ are not, which might be just fine. It can often be difficult to not compare ourself with others, it’s human nature but I urge you to try and stop. It’s not healthy.
This grad student is doing just fine and I tried to impart that on her. It was also good of her to note this and put it in her “back pocket” because being aware can be very healthy. One of her “trusted advisees” is someone who is taking much longer due to circumstances that I know little about, but I urged her to perhaps stop listening to her friends (and stop hanging out with them). Their comments are not coming from a genuine place and they’re simply jealous and showing their own insecurities because they’re going at a much slower pace.
Academia and a PhD is not a race. I have to remind myself of that as a young faculty member and it’s nice to hear it out loud when I say it to others. We compete with ourselves but that’s it most of the time.Whether a grad student or a young faculty, the guilt of always thinking we need to work and the constant hum of our computers and our brains is never ending. It’s hard to “turn it off” and sometimes, it can be even more difficult to “turn it on,” particularly in the writing department.
In the end, it’s important to remind ourselves to try not to compare our work with others. It can be healthy, but it can also go too far very quickly. Even if you have to put a post it in a visible place, it’s worth it for your mental health and sanity to stop playing to comparison game with such rigor that it turns into a negative force. If you feel like you’re behind (really behind), check in with your mentor, check in with yourself, and I’m sure you’ll soon realize that you’re not as badly off as you think you are.