Grad Students: Über Confident Isn’t Winning

Grad Students: Über Confident Isn't Winning | New Faculty


I’m always intrigued when I talk to grad students in general. I always like to hear about how their experience with grad school is going, what they like to do when they’re not doing grad school things, and then I like to run into the major advisors at meetings, workshops, and conferences.

Students in grad school tend to go one way or the other: uber confident to the point of arrogant OR the “zero” efficacy zone with so much humble pie, you would have thought they crawled out from one that very morning (also called bed).

I was out with a grad students who’s ABD and he gushed on and on about “how great things were going” and “i’m so far along” and “i’m killing it, i’m just killing it.”

Incidentally, I’d just seen his advisor about a week prior and they had something quite the opposite to say, “underproducer 100%,  a year or more behind.”


Where does this happen? Why does this happen? The Professor is In discussed grad student grandiosity and how it spills over into packets for jobs and it got me thinking about grad students I work with and pointed inward to the kind of grad student I was. This behavior begins long before a student begins putting together packets and the illusion that they’re somehow “doing great and killing it” is something that has always made me curious. I believe it’s a pretty fine line between doing great and doing terrible. It’s no secret that grad school is the destroyer of self-esteem in general so it never hurts to have a healthy ego, but at what point does that ego get the best of us and put us in the “a year behind” category without us even realizing it.

While it can be hard, open communication among the student/advisor is 100% necessary. Each party can only do so much to meet the other half way. What’s important to remember is this: your advisor already has his/her phd and you don’t. You can say that the advisor is awful or that they’re not helping you all you want, but they don’t need another degree and you do. If you think your advisor only has you to worry about, reframe your thinking: your advisor has more work that he/she will ever know what to do with and you’re about 1/48 of his/her plate of work on any given day.

Being self motivated is the only way you’re going to finish. You can have the best support group, most outstanding advisor, and amazing research, but the only thing that will get you to completion is YOU. Compensating with ego will only get you so far, the jig won’t last long when no words come out on the paper. I watched this happen several times during grad school and several more on faculty. You can only go so long without doing the readings, you can only last so long by not buckling down.

As you begin a new academic year, I implore the faculty and the students to communicate. Managing expectations will help everyone and being clear on those in advance can only turn this into a positive outcome. I’m not going to pretend that grad school is full of magic and unicorns, but you can get out with some slice of dignity left by pacing yourself through the marathon, being humble, and working through the process.

I bid you a productive and steadfast academic year.


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