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Overcoming Feelings of Inadequacy

ResilientDreams

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Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! :)

For my first post, I wanted to open up about what has been the hardest thing for me about the application process so far, and that is the feeling of not being good enough. Reading through the posts on GradCafe and seeing all the wonderful things people have done, I can't help but feel like I don't measure up. This is my fourth year working in labs and I have no publications. My GRE math score is...meh. My honors thesis is still in progress and so I don't have a neat, packaged project that I can talk about or submit as a writing sample.

I'm still applying.

I feel like it's easy to forget that the kind of people who post on sites like this tend to not be representative of the applicant pool as a whole, and that there do exist those of us who are applying without 10+ years of related work experience or 5+ published journal articles. My hope is to give readers some insight about what the application process is like for those of us who feel like we might not stand out as much because we don't have those things. Because that's actually not true. My first piece of advice for people who find that they're in my situation is to remember that it's all relative. For example, if you're still in undergrad, there's no way that a grad school will expect you to have as much research experience as someone who has been out of school much longer. Additionally, a lack of published articles is not a death sentence if you can convey in your application that you've gained valuable research skills. This applies both for current undergraduates such as myself, as well as those who have a master's or have been working for a while. Finally, even if someone looks "better" on paper than you, you might actually be the one with a better research fit.

So, even though it can be difficult, don't be intimidated by your perceived competition. Remember to put the process into perspective and trust that if you highlight your strengths in your application you will end up where you're supposed to be.



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Hi @ResilientDreams

First, I really admire the advice that you give on GradCafe, and you seem to have a great application. However, there is something about the message that I am getting from the blog post that is not sitting well with me, and I want to push back against. The idea that I am getting from this is that "my" achievements will be contextualized. In saying this, there is an implicit suggest that the person who has 10+ years of work experience doesn't deserve the same benefit-of-the-doubt perhaps in regards to GPA or whatever. 

It matters because it is an unhealthy way of solving feelings of inadequacy. In fact, I think this kind of rationalization actually may exacerbate the distress. 

The simple fact is that in our application process we are going to be assessed against people who are better than us, and no, we are not always going receive the benefit of contextualization. However, you are right in that the only thing that we can do is to package ourselves in the best way possible and to progress forward despite feeling inadequate at times. We must not follow into the trap of continually comparing ourselves to others. 

I think it helps to know that many people feel inadequate and doubt themselves for all kinds of different reasons. In questionnaires, others have reported that their feelings come from things such as the following: not seeing other people who, they feel, represent their background; feeling that having to work hard for something means they are not naturally talented enough to succeed; feeling that if they are not perfect, then they are not good enough; and on and on. But, justifying their success by minimizing others is not the way forward. 

For a personal example: my mentor is well connected, and there are moments when I fear that prospective PIs have taken time to talk to me just because they know my PI. My negativity trap is the tendency to think that I only am where I am because of other people. Maybe there is a grain truth to that, but in interactions, I have to stand on my own and talk about my work and interests confidently. I have to tell myself that I am good enough, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. 

Something else that helps these feelings is to talk with other people about them. They are surprisingly common. An estimated 70% of people -- Yes, men can feel inadequate, too. Chances are that the graduate students, postdocs, and even your PI have experienced these feelings. Talk to them about it. 

The purpose of this comment is to say that attempting to bolster our own successes by minimizing the successes of others is not a healthy or productive way to get over feelings of inadequacy, and I want to push back against this sentiment. 

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3 hours ago, sendmeadvice said:

Hi @ResilientDreams

First, I really admire the advice that you give on GradCafe, and you seem to have a great application. However, there is something about the message that I am getting from the blog post that is not sitting well with me, and I want to push back against. The idea that I am getting from this is that "my" achievements will be contextualized. In saying this, there is an implicit suggest that the person who has 10+ years of work experience doesn't deserve the same benefit-of-the-doubt perhaps in regards to GPA or whatever. 

It matters because it is an unhealthy way of solving feelings of inadequacy. In fact, I think this kind of rationalization actually may exacerbate the distress. 

The simple fact is that in our application process we are going to be assessed against people who are better than us, and no, we are not always going receive the benefit of contextualization. However, you are right in that the only thing that we can do is to package ourselves in the best way possible and to progress forward despite feeling inadequate at times. We must not follow into the trap of continually comparing ourselves to others. 

I think it helps to know that many people feel inadequate and doubt themselves for all kinds of different reasons. In questionnaires, others have reported that their feelings come from things such as the following: not seeing other people who, they feel, represent their background; feeling that having to work hard for something means they are not naturally talented enough to succeed; feeling that if they are not perfect, then they are not good enough; and on and on. But, justifying their success by minimizing others is not the way forward. 

For a personal example: my mentor is well connected, and there are moments when I fear that prospective PIs have taken time to talk to me just because they know my PI. My negativity trap is the tendency to think that I only am where I am because of other people. Maybe there is a grain truth to that, but in interactions, I have to stand on my own and talk about my work and interests confidently. I have to tell myself that I am good enough, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. 

Something else that helps these feelings is to talk with other people about them. They are surprisingly common. An estimated 70% of people -- Yes, men can feel inadequate, too. Chances are that the graduate students, postdocs, and even your PI have experienced these feelings. Talk to them about it. 

The purpose of this comment is to say that attempting to bolster our own successes by minimizing the successes of others is not a healthy or productive way to get over feelings of inadequacy, and I want to push back against this sentiment. 

Hi @sendmeadvice!

Thanks for posting this, because I hadn't realized that my post may be taken in that way! My intention wasn't to minimize the accomplishments of people with more experience. It was meant to say that if you don't have that experience but have still given it your all, that shouldn't stop you from applying. We of course will be compared to people who are better and more accomplished than us, and learning to accept that is a part of life.

I totally see your point about the contextualization, and I hadn't intended to imply that someone with years of experience will be held to such a more rigorous standard that if they have any weakness they shouldn't even bother applying. I was more thinking in terms of looking back at what you have accomplished and being proud of it personally, regardless of if it measures up to other people (which applies to people with experience too!). That's not to say that these other people haven't done fantastic things. I'm just saying you shouldn't fall into the trap of comparing, as you said. 

I really appreciate the other bits of advice you gave as well. :)

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Hi! I just joined GradCafe and this was the message I needed to see. I'm finishing up my last year of my master's degree in English and have no publications yet. My GPA isn't that great and I'm taking my tests in the spring. I'm not applying to school till Fall 2020, but I'm so nervous. The worst thing they can tell us is no, right? And we can always keep trying. I'm glad that I'm not the only one that doesn't feel as confident in their current marketability to their programs. 

 

 

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