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Nervous About Meeting My Cohort/Professors


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Hey guys,

I've been feeling very anxious about meeting my fellow classmates and professors in a few weeks. Most of this anxiety has to do with the difference between how I feel a graduate student is expected to be as contrasted with what I feel to be my true personality. I'm not religious and see morality as a very gray area. I smoke. I drink. I swear. I've been known to fight a time or two. I've been locked up a couple of times. I've had a few close calls. I'm more interested in getting laid than dropping my two cents in the proverbial pool of knowledge. Despite all of this, I tend to be a good student on paper, and I see the benefit of obtaining a relevant graduate degree.

Unlike high school and college where simply getting all A's and testing well is more or less considered to be stupendous, graduate school relies substantially more on the professional network that you develop. Herein lies the problem. I have this fear that now, as a grown-ass man, unless I make a substantial effort to be a jolly, humble, "keeps-it-all-together" type whose sole interest is contributing to the knowledge of the field, helping others, and generally just being some sort of caricature of a perfect graduate student that I am going to mess everything up.

I usually feel friction in sterile, academic settings. I feel stifled and perplexed by the way other people interact with knowledge and their surroundings. Maybe I'm just a bit traumatized from my teen/undergrad years. Is this likely to be different in a graduate school setting?

My plan is to simply try to treat others how I'd want them to treat me and try to do what I'm supposed to do until everybody gets comfortable enough with each other to accept each other as we are, not as who we could or should be. There will be times, though, where this plan will definitely be put to the test.

So I guess what I'm asking is this: how do you balance being who you really are with who you are supposed to be, if you are even supposed to be anything at all?

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Hey Pas,

Before you read my reply, I'd like to inform you that this is all second hand information. I will start grad school this fall and can only tell you what I've seen through others.

There is no perfect graduate student. Graduate students consume copious amounts of alcohol as do quite a few professors (I can link you to a paper by a professor in a big university who wrote that the best advice she received from her advice in her first year was to buy a large bottle of vodka and use it well. :P lol.). Smoking, swearing and getting laid are all personal choices. Moral grayness is a very valid school of thought, ask any philosophy student. All these things don't make or break a graduate student and there is no image of a grad student that shuns all these (I think you've been watching too much big bang theory :P). Your life, you lead it as you wish.

Having said that, there will be people who disapprove of your behavior but hey that's a given in life isn't it. Don't care about them. You are not alone, each year there are thousands of students entering grad programs with very varied lifestyles and that is the fun of grad school, it's a melting pot. I'm sure you'll meet many people like yourself.

What I am, however, concerned about is the fact that you aren't interested in the furthering of knowledge/intellectual pursuit. If you are enrolled in a MS program that's not an issue. If you are going for a PhD I think you should seriously sit down and reconsider it. It isn't worth it if you aren't in it for a specific reason. Judging from other posts on this forum, I think the going gets really tough at a point and you'll only persevere if you are there for a reason. I mean generally a PhD makes you overqualified for most jobs except research jobs, academic jobs and other cutting edge work. You should really think about it.

Also, grad school isn't anything like undergrad. There are no fixed schedules and all that. It is what you make of it. Academic settings needn't be sterile, they can be a lot of fun, you just have to find the right crowd that suits your definition of fun and trust me you will. The only thing is you need to figure out what you are in it for.

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My plan is to simply try to treat others how I'd want them to treat me and try to do what I'm supposed to do until everybody gets comfortable enough with each other to accept each other as we are, not as who we could or should be. There will be times, though, where this plan will definitely be put to the test.

I think that there is definitely a way for you to present yourself in a professional manner while still being true to yourself. You are correct here in that you should work hard to make a positive first impression, but you seem to be implying that your less than desirable behaviors will be okay once you get to know everybody. I think it goes without saying that violence is never the answer to any conflict, but you are a "grown man." You know this already. Depending on the personalities of your fellow students and your professors, other things you mentioned, such as swearing and drinking (excessively, at least) will also probably be taken offensively. The key here is to mantain boundaries within the various relationships you develop with the others. With close friends, for example, a fun night of drinking would probably not be innapropriate. Getting drunk at a holiday party attended by the entire department, however, would not be a good idea and may even damage your career. Get to know others and their comfort levels before testing the waters too much.

You mentioned that you smoke. I don't see this as a problem at all (at least, from the vantage point of how you will fit in with others). As long as you abide by the rules as far as where/when you can smoke, it won't be an issue. I was a smoker as an undergrad and would often do so around campus. I got a few dirty looks, along with a look of shock from one of my professors, but I don't think it damaged my realtionship with anyone. It was my choice to smoke and I owned that. While other people in my life (including school friends) were not happy with my choice, they didn't disown me or anything.

As far as you being able to express your ideas go, I wouldn't worry about it too much. From what I have experienced so far in academic enviornments open discussion is not only tolerated, it's encouraged. As long as you can express your views in a way that it not overtly offensive to others, I don't see any reason why you should keep your thoughts to yourself. After all, there's nothing like a lively debate to bring interest and engagement to a class! It only enriches the learning environment and gives others food for thought. Then again, I went to a rather free-wheeling liberal arts college in a very progressive city. I particularily recall one literature class in which the two business majors in our section stomped out, red-faced and fuming. They accused our professor of being biased and basically demanded an end to open discussion. Open discussion continued. That's one class I will never forget.

Pas, I can definitely feel your concern. I'm a left-leaning, vegetarian, smoking, drinking, tattooed girl with a pretty big mouth ( at times). I have political/social opinions, and LOTS of them, that I'm usually not afraid to share. I'm also a grad student on a conservative-minded campus. I think you have a pretty limited view of what a grad student is. Grad students are just like everybody else. They come from all different cultures, religions, and political viewpoints, and vary greatly in their personal habits and morals. I think Amogh is right-you watch too much Big Bang Theory. :) Although I have to say, I love that show.

Just be yourself, but a professional version of yourself. You don't have to change who you are. But different settings definitely call for different behavior.

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I'll be on a conservative campus, too. That definitely plays into my trepidation.

Believe it or not, I've only watched maybe half of an episode of that show...and hated it. You guys will have to explain to me what you mean by "watching too much Big Bang Theory."

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I have no worries. Even on conservative campuses, there is bound to be a lot of left-leaning students. It just seems to be the nature of college campuses. :) I'm attending a master's in counseling program. The field overwhelmingly attracts liberals, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of company.

So basically, whenever I think of the characters in the Big Bang Theory-I think of the stereotypical vision of the nerd/good student/intellectual type. We were just trying to point out that not all grad students are like the characters on that show. I like to think that if anything I'm at least more socially skilled then they are. B)

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I am 100% sure I wouldn't have made it this far if it weren't for swearing, drinking, and the occasional inappropriate behaviour! HOWEVER (there's always a however!): I keep these behaviours to my personal life, and not let it shift into my school life.

Graduate school is much different than ungrad and HS....grad school is a job. A full blown, this is your career, you are paving your path, job..JOB. You would not act irresponsible, disrespectful or immature at a job that you valued, wanted longterm success in, and wanted to be viewed as at a serious contributor. I don't think keeping this in mind and acting towards these goals should make you a stiff, boring, and conservative individual- you can still be yourself, just maybe check your filter and ask yourself "is this appropriate"?

I noticed that you mentioned that you want to get laid...a lot. My advice- don't poo where you eat. If you're going to be macking on the ladies in your department, be prepared for this persona to get around and follow you for a long time...not to mention that if it goes bad, you will probably feel the heat in a bad bad way. If your main goal is just booty, I would stick to women outside of your department, degree, lab, classes...etc.

I think the biggest thing for you to remember is grad school is the time when you start to pave your own path and make a name for yourself. If you want to have your name be a party man that wears his pants on his head- go ahead! That's your choice and your name will take you where you want it too...grad school is what you make it, and at this point, you are really responsible for how you let your community, peers, advisors see you! :)

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I like how you put desire to "get laid" as if this a goal specific to you or your some sort of weirdo, haha. I think most people (outside of those with religious issues) at least take this approach in general in life and will be fine with it, as long a you are not a sexist pig towards women. Just remember that this is a professional environment like a job, and you do not have the same rights to free speech as elsewhere. As someone who throughout most of graduate school has been a chain smoking, heavy drinker (although of late, I have confined both of these to the bar or other social situations), you will find your clique, who like to go to a happy hour after an afternoon class and there will be those who don't.

As someone, who is also known for a loose and offensive way of speaking, these are things you just have to be cautious about early on until you figure out who is cool and who is a bit more uptight. I politically disagree with politically correctness and euphemism, as just a pathway for biggots to avoid being called out, so I have gotten in plenty of trouble for what I say in life, but I can keep it out of my professional life. I have been known to occasionally swear in class, even when teaching, and as long as you aren't you know just peppering every sentence with profanity (and maybe voice a quick, "sorry"), most people are adults and will let it slide. Smoking really is no big deal and shouldn't be anybody else's business, and if they have problem with it, it is theirs, not yours. Fighting (outside of a boxing ring) is just plain stupid on all accounts, but if you must, obviously keep it out of your professional life. The older you get, the less fighting will tolerated by any intelligent adult who you would want to associate with even if they like to cuss, drink, and smoke, so you should work on cutting this out of your life in general.

Wow, this ended up being really long. I am not inclinded to long posts, but I relate with many of your vices...

Edited by Riotbeard
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