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Grad school and the socially ridiculous


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Posted

I'm reaching out to the socially savvy grad students among us for a little advice, and to the socially ridiculous among us for a little empathy.

I am cripplingly shy. Not "I'm a little quiet when you first meet me" shy, but "my brain malfunctions when I'm meeting new people and I probably come off looking like a serial killer" shy. I end up saying ridiculous things and responding strangely, then I spend the next 24 hours replaying the scenario over and over in my head and praying for death. This effect is magnified when I behave ridiculously in front of Very Important People, e.g. professors.

Where I'm going with this is that I will be visiting my future school and meeting/making my first impressions on my future adviser and professors in March, If I was going on the official Visitation Day, I could cope because there would be a group and a planned itinerary and blah blah blah. BUT! I'm unable to make it on the official day, so I've arranged to have an unofficial visitation day in which they've kindly offered to let me sit in on some graduate courses and so on.

I'm already hyperventilating over the fact that this is going to be all me, and there will not be any other future grads to share the pressure with. If I have one-on-one time with future professors, what do I do? How do I behave? WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT? Can they rescind an offer of admission if they decide I'm too weird? :blink:

Sigh.

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Posted

One way to deal with it is to prepare for the conversations with the professors: skim their latest research papers/books/articles and get a sense of what they're working on, look at their students. Then make a list of questions about their research, the school, the department, their interaction with students. That'll carry you through those conversations.

As far as social anxiety goes, though, I'm not sure what would be helpful advice. My approach is to slow down and take longer pauses, thinking of the responses and taking deep breaths. It gets better after a while. Good luck!

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Posted

talk about them, not you. and have at least 100 questions ready to ask. most people, being self-centered, will gladly answer questions about themselves and forget to ask you about yourself.

focus on external realities and ideas, not intrapersonal sociability

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Posted

If you're that worried about this, you may benefit from some counseling or therapy. It may not help you by March, but getting over that is something you're going to have to do eventually.

I suggest putting your questions on index cards. No one is going to slag you for coming prepared with questions. Treat it like a job interview. Know how you want to answer their questions ahead of time, and know what you want to ask them.

Also, you will see that you'll be glad you're visiting on your own. You'll get a more genuine view of the day-to-day experience in the department.

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Posted (edited)

Ha! (Laughing with, not at)

I asked an almost identical question over on metafilter the other day. Got some EXCELLENT advice.

HERE is the link, ;) Definitely worth a read.

Hope it's helpful for you!

Edit to add: Most of the responses I got focused on interaction with fellow prospective students, which won't be an issue for you since you're going alone, but I think the general gist of the advice is still really good/PRACTICAL/implementable.

Edited by DorindaAfterThyrsis

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Posted

Ha! (Laughing with, not at)

I asked an almost identical question over on metafilter the other day. Got some EXCELLENT advice.

HERE is the link, ;) Definitely worth a read.

Hope it's helpful for you!

Edit to add: Most of the responses I got focused on interaction with fellow prospective students, which won't be an issue for you since you're going alone, but I think the general gist of the advice is still really good/PRACTICAL/implementable.

Thank you for posting, that thread provided amazing advice and some much needed perspective: "Like, really, there are some programs where having a basic set of social skills makes you into the grad school equivalent of high school quarterback." lol

Thank you all!

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Posted

Honestly, talk to your doctor about getting prescribed a low dose of Xanax. It works wonders to calm your social anxiety and you will end up being more relaxed and like your true self rather than appearing meek or nervous.

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Posted

Do you get any exercise? If not, you should start. Exercising is a great outlet for stress and anxiety.

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Posted

Thing number one is that you probably don't actually sound as bad as you think you do: it's because you are painfully shy that you think you sound completely and unavoidably weird. I'm a very outgoing and extraverted person, and I have rarely been put off by people who describe themselves as shrinkingly shy. It's usually other extraverts who say things that make you think they are an ax murderer, lol.

Maybe you could try practicing talking in front of a mirror? It may sound really silly, but it will get you more comfortable with the sound of your own voice and the body language that you use.

You might also chat with some current students first to get a sense of the professor and put you at ease. Current students can be endlessly funny and usually like to complain about their graduate programs no matter how much they like them, so listen to some stories and that may loosen you up a little. You may also get a current student to take you to, or introduce you to, one of the professors you want to talk to and sort of grease the wheels a little.

I agree with the Xanax if you feel your social anxiety is so crippling it interferes with the normal living out of your life.

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Posted (edited)

talk about them, not you. and have at least 100 questions ready to ask. most people, being self-centered, will gladly answer questions about themselves and forget to ask you about yourself.

focus on external realities and ideas, not intrapersonal sociability

Yeah - that's pretty much the route I take with my social anxiety. But there is a possible risk in that they might learn very little about you after it's all over. Sometimes, you can learn a lot about someone by the questions they pose, but a lot of the questions people ask in the first interview are pretty much pre-scripted anyways.

==

On a side note, think about this: a lot of students are international students, and they generally face social barriers that domestic students don't face. So a lot of professors are prepared to interact with (and to tolerate) students unfamiliar with the social mannerisms that are generally expected out of Americans.

Edited by InquilineKea

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Posted

Ha! (Laughing with, not at)

I asked an almost identical question over on metafilter the other day. Got some EXCELLENT advice.

HERE is the link, ;) Definitely worth a read.

Hope it's helpful for you!

Edit to add: Most of the responses I got focused on interaction with fellow prospective students, which won't be an issue for you since you're going alone, but I think the general gist of the advice is still really good/PRACTICAL/implementable.

Thank you so much for this! I'm actually an extravert with major social anxiety, so while I crave the company of others, I find socialization difficult a lot of the time. This is very helpful.

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Posted

talk about them, not you. and have at least 100 questions ready to ask. most people, being self-centered, will gladly answer questions about themselves and forget to ask you about yourself.

focus on external realities and ideas, not intrapersonal sociability

"...external realities and ideas, not intrapersonal sociability." I think he's saying to talk about the weather and the local sports teams...

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