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How did the first semester go for everyone? I feel like i'm hitting the wall over and over...


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Long story short, I got in a PhD program freshly out of undergrad. This is my first semester. During under, I was building myself toward cognitive psychology (psychology + stats + a little bit of programming).

Turns out, no cognitive psychology program wanted me, and the only option left was a math psych program. Well, I decided to go for it. Turns out, I was put under an advisor who is very theoretical (I prefer to call him a mathematician than a psychologist or psycho-physicist).

I am decent at math. But the two classes I was put in are very difficult, and are not what i was preparing for during undergrad. I am managing to hang on, but I feel more and more discouraged as time went by. My programming skill is not good enough to take over the programs left by a formal student who graduated before I got here. I have a lot of trouble understanding the details of my advisor's papers. And I am really struggling in the classes. (I don't have the back ground knowledge).

I am not suggesting anything here, just felt like to rant for a little. i am wondering if this is common for first year grad students or not.

feel free to leave some comments or suggestions (possibly?)

:)

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I am decent at math. But the two classes I was put in are very difficult, and are not what i was preparing for during undergrad. I am managing to hang on, but I feel more and more discouraged as time went by. My programming skill is not good enough to take over the programs left by a formal student who graduated before I got here. I have a lot of trouble understanding the details of my advisor's papers. And I am really struggling in the classes. (I don't have the back ground knowledge).

No matter what research you get into, you will find yourself falling short. You should expect your first year of research to be full of stupid blunders, frustration, and feelings of rank stupidity. This is normal.

My first research project (before grad school) was working for a theoretical biochemist. He needed me to program. I'd failed the only programming course I'd ever taken, AND I'd never even heard of the language he wanted me to use. Nonetheless, I learned to program, though I admit I was tearing my hair out the whole time.

Grad school (and beyond) is all about learning things *on your own*--that is what research is, after all! It doesn't matter that you don't have the course background to do what you need to do: you can learn to do it anyway. So explain to your advisor that you aren't as good at programming as you need to be, and make sure he gives you appropriate reference books. If he doesn't have them on hand, he should buy them for you. Compared to some costs of research, this is minimal.

Math classes: go to office hours as much as possible. Find friends in the class who understand things better than you. Grades are less important in grad school than in undergrad, so don't get too worried if you don't get an A in the class--just get through somehow.

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I came across this article about feeling stupid in grad school. Basically it says that if you don't feel stupid in grad school, then you're doing it wrong. You'll probably feel inadequate surrounded by brilliant people, but these same people are likely either going through or have gone through the same struggles with feeling stupid as you are, and are too ashamed/afraid to say so.

Edited by newms
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First off, I'm also in the first year of a psych program and I definitely feel incredibly stupid and unprepared in one of my classes. It's a psycholinguistics course for which I don't have nearly enough background knowledge, so I don't understand the readings or discussion. However, every week I find myself understanding a little more than the week before.... I'm hoping that by the end of the course, I'll understand enough to write a coherent research proposal for the final paper, but it's not looking likely! It doesn't help that it's being taught by one of my advisors, so I regularly look stupid in front of her.

That being said, I hear this is a totally normal part of being a first year PhD student! Just think about how much you're learning by doing something new. It's now your job to regularly tackle projects and ideas that you know nothing about, and like any job, you'll get better at it with practice.

Also, you mentioned that you've been "put" under a theoretical advisor... if there's someone in the department who would make a better advisor for you (perhaps because they're more psych and less math), try switching to them! The ease with which you can do this varies by program, but it's definitely doable in most cases. If you can't switch entirely, perhaps try doing a side project or co-adivising situation with someone in cognitive psych.

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Thanks for the advice everyone!!!

Let me update the situation a tiny bit. I am taking real analysis with the math graduates. I do not have much prior experience with analysis. well, at least not enough to consider myself prepared with the subject. So I consider this to be the first course in pure math for me. I am managing to hang on with the rest of the class. But I am rather inexperienced at it, for example, I am slow at solving proofs, and that is hurting me pretty badly in exams.

I am considering either switching to another mentor or switch to another program if that is necessary. How would that work? for instance, I am in psychophysics, how should I approach the issue if I want to work with a cognitive psyc professor? Honestly, I am worrying if I would upset my current mentor.

:)

---------------------------the magical line-------------------------------------

another question I have is, suppose I have no other choice but to switch to a different program. How should I bring the issue up with my mentor?? For example, I am debating over I should leave after the first year, but if I do that, I will need to start apply for programs now. And I will need to inform my mentor. When that happen, it is really goodbye between me and my current program..

Also, suppose I fail the current course (real analysis). well maybe not fail, but get a C or things in that sort, how badly would it hurt my chance of going into another program? (such as IO psyc, Cog psyc and so on, not too math heavy)

Edited by David200000000000
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Talk about hitting the wall over and over again.

I failed my first test in both of my classes. People are already finding funded projects and I just had my first meeting with a faculty member with no money. And let's not even get into the social issues. My paranoia has kicked in full force and I'm convinced no one likes me, and everything that people do or don't do solidifies it in my head, but I can't say anything because that'd be childish. This was supposed to be a great new adventure, and now I just feel like I've made the worst mistake ever. The only thing keeping me here is the fact that I've never given up on anything before.

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  • 1 month later...

Talk about hitting the wall over and over again.

I failed my first test in both of my classes. People are already finding funded projects and I just had my first meeting with a faculty member with no money. And let's not even get into the social issues. My paranoia has kicked in full force and I'm convinced no one likes me, and everything that people do or don't do solidifies it in my head, but I can't say anything because that'd be childish. This was supposed to be a great new adventure, and now I just feel like I've made the worst mistake ever. The only thing keeping me here is the fact that I've never given up on anything before.

Oh, noes, Robin!! It pains me so to see the folks I went through the cycle with on the boards being beaten down by the system. It hurts worse to be one of them.

I hate these people.

Well, ok, I don't hate them. I love my colleagues for the most part but the professors could kick rocks. My advisor was - surprise! - fired the week I started. Oh, they knew but did they tell me? Nope. That means no advisor, no mentorship, no political cover, no support with reading lists, figuring things out, nothing.

No one else gives two shits of a care about my research. This prof was the only one. So, I talk about my idea to people who look at me like I'm an alien. I am busting my ass emailing, calling, and attending functions in hopes of connecting with someone who will be interested in at least TALKING to me.

So, see, I understand. I just know that people as focused and excited and grounded as we were before this should be able to make this work some kind of way. They cannot be bigger and better than we are. They can't be. I refuse to believe it.

I seriously doubt people hate you. Reach out more, find a few friends in any department, from any school, not even in school -- just find some people. I met some women the first week at a hyphenated american interest group on campus and were it not for them I think I would have packed up my shit and slept on a greyhound weeks ago.

We can do this.

Edited by coyabean
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I also hate hearing other people that went through the app process with me having problems! I am really sorry to hear this guys!

So I'll start with the positives... I love my new city, I've made great friends already, and the professors in the program are very open and supportive.

The negatives: the school itself, and its resources...not so hot, I had to TA my first quarter - was it not enough to deal with my own problems of adjusting to grad school, but then having to coach undergrads through their problems? ... TAing wasnt as hard as I had expected though, and the work load wasn't killer and it is after all, paying for my tuition.... I also had some problems coming up with a thesis topic but... I think I've got it nailed down finally.

Adjusting to some of the material we had to cover was hard though... a lot I hadn't been exposed to, and I felt like a moron the whole time, but like everyone said... that's the process.

So... all and all a pretty good experience, and I definitely appreciate it more hearing about some of the problems you guys are encountering with your advisors. Ugh. Good luck to you!!!

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I hate the town I'm in and the lack of funding at my institution (people farther along than me are dropping like flies due to the lack of funds, transferring institutions, etc.) :(

I love my cohort, the classes, my subject matter, my adviser, my thesis topic, the climate of new town I hate otherwise and am just so happy and thankful to be doing what I LOVE.

I felt upset throughout the semester, not being confident this was for me or that I was able to do it. It's wayyyy different than undergrad and I do believe it's something like a hazing ritual to weed out the weak like residency with M.D.'s. But, as the semester is drawing to a close I'm feeling better about my performance as a whole. I can do this. Heck yes!

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Oh, noes, Robin!! It pains me so to see the folks I went through the cycle with on the boards being beaten down by the system. It hurts worse to be one of them.

I hate these people.

Well, ok, I don't hate them. I love my colleagues for the most part but the professors could kick rocks. My advisor was - surprise! - fired the week I started. Oh, they knew but did they tell me? Nope. That means no advisor, no mentorship, no political cover, no support with reading lists, figuring things out, nothing.

No one else gives two shits of a care about my research. This prof was the only one. So, I talk about my idea to people who look at me like I'm an alien. I am busting my ass emailing, calling, and attending functions in hopes of connecting with someone who will be interested in at least TALKING to me.

So, see, I understand. I just know that people as focused and excited and grounded as we were before this should be able to make this work some kind of way. They cannot be bigger and better than we are. They can't be. I refuse to believe it.

I seriously doubt people hate you. Reach out more, find a few friends in any department, from any school, not even in school -- just find some people. I met some women the first week at a hyphenated american interest group on campus and were it not for them I think I would have packed up my shit and slept on a greyhound weeks ago.

We can do this.

Thanks so much for your encouragement! Things are definitely looking up now. I think I was just having a difficult time adjusting and realizing that as one of my teachers told me, "You're not an undergrad anymore". I feel a lot more confident in my new friendships, I get along so well with my roommate, and I even have a crush to keep me occupied :D I'm even the secretary of a new gras school group. I love my new city as much as I did the first time I ever visited. I aced my second test in one of my classes. At this point I'm only worried about my other class and my finals in general, but I'm doing what I can at this point to stay on top of everything. I'm still in the midst of finding a thesis project, but at this point I'm concentrating on classes and will get back to that next semester. I absolutely love teaching, and so many of my students have asked me to teach their labs next semester.

We got this :)

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I'm in my first semester doing a MS. The ONLY Professor who I wanted to work with doesn't have funding at all and will not know till January (not that MS students normally get funded by an advisor here). I have conflicting interests with the other Professors here sadly and that Professor is actually the only one here I find interesting.

Now the good side of things here would be that I made 3 excellent first year friends also who share the same interests as I do. So I'll be taking classes with them until we all graduate. The Professor I'm interested in also has given my friends and I a final project work on for his class so that we can try to get a small paper published. He already said he'd be my advisor, but doesn't have funds to support me and that I would have to be a TA. Hopefully things will look brighter next semester and he will be awarded a ton of funding.

I'm also doing really well in all my classes and should have no issues this semester.

Edited by joro
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My first semester has gone fairly well, but I can only say that because my expectations were so low that any sort of success would be a win. I anticipated them finding out I'm not as smart as they think I am in about two weeks or so. It looks as though I've fooled them for at least a semester.

My languages are not where I would like them to be, but oh well. For the most part, all of my peers are very friendly. However, I just recently received a very angry email from a professor because of a miscommunication concerning a meeting time. I took it very personally and I was absolutely sure this was the end of the road for me and that I'd just fail out. We have about two weeks left after Thanksgiving break and I've done fairly well in the class, so I'm not too worried about it, but it still stinks to have a professor angry with you.

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So far my semester has been going pretty well (except for a disappointing turn in the world of romance). The fun thing is that I haven't had any significant grades in any of my classes yet, the final papers are pretty much everything. I have had really solid encouragment in my research so far though, and I am beginning to see how committee will probably look. My cohort is pretty awesome. I have made some really good friends. It might just be though that the wall emerges as soon as I turn in my seminar papers.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, then. I'm in the MAPH at UChicago, Cinema/Media Studies track. I have minimal experience in film theory (3 courses in undergrad at a not-so-great place). I feel like I've been tossed into the deep end, held under, and made to figure out how the hell to come back up for air...and strangely enough, I have never loved being in college/university more than I have this past quarter. It was intense as anything, and often I felt like there was just. no. way. I could handle all the reading, synthesise them, assimilate them into coherent papers...much less get top grades from leading scholars and what not. I was also terrified of being completely ignored for being a 'newb' and such.

Yes, I did feel stupid. And yes, I'm sure I came off as a total ingenue at times during discussions. But now I'm facing winter break and my grades have been surprisingly strong across the board. I've had encouraging comments on papers, I've found professors to be a varied lot–some have been amazingly approachable and personable, others not so much. I realise I sound like I'm gushing, but I am <censored< excited about the next two quarters (the program lasts a year) and I'm excited about my thesis project.

All is not sunny, though. My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to read in graduate school. Reading every text cover to cover seems implausible given the pace of work, amount of work, and the plethora of literature around. Film studies is among the most interdisciplinary fields around, so it is quite possible that for a given project you may find relevant scholarship in anthropology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, physical science, art history, visual studies, philosophy...among others. Long story short, I'm worried about being thorough enough in going through my bibliography and selecting the most accurately relevant research available, and so on. Any advice on this?

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All is not sunny, though. My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to read in graduate school. Reading every text cover to cover seems implausible given the pace of work, amount of work, and the plethora of literature around. Film studies is among the most interdisciplinary fields around, so it is quite possible that for a given project you may find relevant scholarship in anthropology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, physical science, art history, visual studies, philosophy...among others. Long story short, I'm worried about being thorough enough in going through my bibliography and selecting the most accurately relevant research available, and so on. Any advice on this?

On the database 'Dissertation Full Text & Abstracts," or whatever it's called, look up a recent dissertation either in film studies or on whatever topic you're researching. Most dissertations (though unfortunately not all) have a very comprehensive literature review near the beginning. It's a great way to get quick look at the longer history of scholarship as well as the most important recent works. You could also look through the programs for recent conferences in your field and try to get an idea of what people are using, or at least what theories are shaping their arguments, via paper titles. It'll at least give you a direction to channel your research. :)

As far as science research developments go, you could do worse than to follow SciTechDaily and eScienceNews. :) Very understandable, even for people whose relationship to theoretical physics is rather like that of

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I just had to post when I saw so many of you who shared the application process with me! I have largely been absent from this forum due to lack of time in my first semester, but I remember how reliant I was on these forums when I was applying, and have a fondness for those of you who spent lots of time here last year!

My first semester went great as far as enjoying where I am, who I work with, and the friends I've made. Overall I feel incredibly fortunate to be here and be funded, and whenever I think I don't want to be here, I think of how badly I wanted to get in last fall when I was working so hard at applications. The downside was the amount of time I spent studying for my classes, and I'm worried about my grade in one of my classes. After being out of school for over 10 years, and mainly working jobs where I got to be active and in the field, it was a huge adjustment to spend most of my waking hours at a desk studying or working on papers. I keep telling myself it will only get better.

I share the "stupid" feeling that I think is pretty common in grad school, and worry that I'm not cut out for it, but I'm not giving up!

My biggest concern last spring when deciding where to accept was the location of my school, and I am very pleased with the outcome. Although there are very few places to go out socially in the area, my friends and I are always getting together at each others houses to have pot-lucks, cocktail parties, play poker, whatever.

I'm glad to hear that many of you are doing well. And for those who are struggling, I would say just work on changing what you can, and accept the rest. Simple advice, but if you're motivated there's a lot you can change! Good luck!

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