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Sometimes, I feel unprepared


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I got into a great program. Really. Great. They gave me the heftiest fellowship awarded by the graduate school in any department. And that's awesome!

Here's the thing. I was a music major. I spent my undergrad bouncing between practice rooms and symphony halls. I did a postbacc premed program for a year, and am now spending a year working on a research project, but I still feel ignorant. (I know, I've read many threads on here about how feeling stupid in science is normal, and even good sometimes, but I don't feel as stupid as I do... ignorant). My first rotation advisor gave me some articles to read and I had to research every other word in wikipedia to really understand what is going on.

I know I am a fast learner and will be ok, but it's just stressful sometimes. I just got back from a poster session with the students in my program and I didn't even know what many of the words on the posters meant. I guess the main point is that this scene is outside of my comfort zone right now. I'm still more comfortable in a symphony hall, but I can feel it changing slowly. But, every time I've ever stepped outside my comfort zone, the result has been awesome. So let's hope it happens again!

The music major turns out to be incredibly relevant because I am interested in researching the medical problems of performing artists (dystonia, repetitive motion injuries, etc). And the thing I love about this institution is that they look at my different background as a strength as opposed to a weakness (like the other institution I applied to). And I am so psyched and honored to get that fellowship (it's letting me buy a house!), but I feel like it adds some pressure too. I need to be good. I need to show them that they made the right decision in putting so much faith in me. But I feel like I have my work cut out for me.

I'm hoping that what I lack in scientific experience and background I will make up in my diverse education and my creative ways of thinking that resulted from it.

There was really no point to this. Just talking. Go ahead. You can talk too.

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I've been out of school for a few years and feel like I've forgotten a lot of what I once knew. I'm also working on filling in a language deficit, so I know how you feel! I think if you're that unfamiliar with some of the more common vocabulary, I'd spend the summer reading. . .a lot. That's my plan anyway to make sure I'm up to par once school starts. Best of luck!

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Hey MoJingly, we all go through that, especially in STEM fields. As you said feeling stupid is normal for a beginning grad student and I'm imagining that feeling ignorant is just a part of the process as well, since if we weren't ignorant, we wouldn't need school, would we? Just don't allow it to get to you and you become like the brilliant student in this article who just couldn't deal with feeling stupid or ignorant so she left grad school. If you want my opinion, I think you'll do great in grad school!

Edited by newms
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My first rotation advisor gave me some articles to read and I had to research every other word in wikipedia to really understand what is going on.

[...]

I just got back from a poster session with the students in my program and I didn't even know what many of the words on the posters meant.

Both these statements exactly describe my experience of my first year in graduate school. Even though I'd done an English major as an undergrad, and even though I'd only let my brain atrophy in the real world for two years (hah), this was still exactly my experience, and the experience of other colleagues of mine as well. Promise. Pinky swear.

You're going to be fine. First year might make your brain feel like it's exploding, but that's a good thing. And your professors won't expect you to be as fluent in disciplinary discourse as your upper-level peers; they know what to expect from a first-year grad student still learning the ropes.

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I wonder how much of this applies to people, like me, who are going into PhD programs having done an MA? What are the expectations there? It's funny because when I was an MA and took the core courses, the PhD students felt so much more prepared, able, and willing to get involved in discussion. Now that I'm going to be in their position, I'm sharing the sense of this thread of sometimes feeling unprepared. For me, I think it's not so much not knowing the vocabulary or the literature; I'm pretty comfortable reading and writing in my field. Perhaps part of it is a confidence thing: as an MA, I felt 'subordinate' to the PhD students. Hopefully, I'll have more confidence as a PhD student.

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MoJingly, you're going to be fine!! There is NO SHAME in using Wikipedia to get caught up on the hot vocab in your field; I use it frequently for this purpose myself. If you're a fast learner and willing to put in the time to reading beyond what's required for your coursework, you'll be alright.

One suggestion: if you have time over the summer, read some of what your profs have written in the past 10 years or so. This will clue you in to the ideas/researchers that your profs think are important. I did this the summer before I started my PhD program and it was really, really helpful for getting me up to speed.

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Ditto the wikipedia thing. I google and wikipedia terms and concepts CONSTANTLY when I'm at home. I also look up the definitions for probably 10-12 words a week when I'm doing heavy reading. Sometimes more, depending on the level of vocab.

It's just like any language, you start picking it up really quickly once you hear and use it on a regular basis. It always helps to understand the meanings of the words when you start to use them though ;)

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I'm starting grad school in the fall. I was an 'Apples' major in undergrad and I'm going on to study something like, 'Washington Apples and Grapes'. Just different enough to make me very scared. (I even have to take some undergrad courses in order to graduate -- that's how little I know.) I don't really know what to do about getting ready for school, but I'm going to contact the grad student administrator for some past syllabi over the summer.

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