Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

Sometimes I wonder how I got into graduate school. Please help?


Just Jeff
 Share

Recommended Posts

My school is a very elite and snooty one, and sometimes, I wonder how I got here. My grades were all A's in college. I was always the over-achiever, the smart goal with a passion for literature and speech pathology. 

 

Coming to grad school was a mistake, I feel. I'm the most incompetent person in the whole class. The students have read people like Foucault and Derrida when they were babies. I don't even know who these philosophers are, nor do I care!

 

I've realized, however, that if I want to succeed, I have to be like one of these students. I want my professors to like me and not see me as this adorable, naive little girl. 

 

What can I do to become smarter??? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You do not need to be able to recite or reference Foucault and Derrida in order to be (or sound) smart!

 

Thanks so much. But according to my professors, you must know and understand Edward Said and all this crap to be smart. I don't know why I got accepted to this school. I don't want to state the name, but it's a good school. Ivy League. I don't know how the hell I got in.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, sorry! Yeah, I guess it's the elitism. I'm not at an elite school. My advisor is the most down-to-earth person you can imagine. I suppose you could try to join/create a study group to get "smarter" about this stuff. I myself would like to take a class next year on contemporary theories and discourses, etc., so that I too can one day talk about Foucauldian this and Foucauldian that (gosh, did I even spell that right?).

 

Anyway, the thing about my huge and top-rated department (despite not being at an elite school) is that we have both theorists and practical people like my advisor. Let's just say my advisor is able to secure the big six-figure grants, and the theorists? Well, they sit around and talk about Foucault and Derrida. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My school is a very elite and snooty one, and sometimes, I wonder how I got here. My grades were all A's in college. I was always the over-achiever, the smart goal with a passion for literature and speech pathology. 

 

Coming to grad school was a mistake, I feel. I'm the most incompetent person in the whole class. The students have read people like Foucault and Derrida when they were babies. I don't even know who these philosophers are, nor do I care!

 

I've realized, however, that if I want to succeed, I have to be like one of these students. I want my professors to like me and not see me as this adorable, naive little girl. 

 

What can I do to become smarter??? 

 

Read Fashionable Nonsense and then tear apart all their Foucault- and Derrida-inspired comments. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bullet cat! Take deep breaths! It sounds like you have a bad case of impostor syndrome. There's a reason why you're at your school, and it's not because you somehow secretly sneaked in. (You deserve to be there!)

 

The names you're mentioning have written foundational texts that underlie much of the literary debate today. Even if you don't have a passion for critical theory (perfectly understandable), you should be familiar with the major works of figures like Derrida, Foucault and Said. However, this doesn't mean you have to reference them all the time, or be able to recite their works -- just be aware of the trends and contributions of major theorists to your field. 

 

To use the example of Said, you might start by getting a grasp on some of his key concepts and ideas, e.g. "orientalism" or "diaspora," by reading a summary of the trends surrounding the word (can be found in a Routledge Critical Theory Companion or an intro text like Keywords for American Cultural Studies). Honestly, if he's tangential to your research and field of study, I might just stop there, since the goal is to understand what people mean (or what they're trying to get you to think) when they reference Said. That said, if you're interested at all in transnationalism, race, (post)imperialism, third world studies, etc. you should probably be reading directly from the primary source, although I'd start with Said readers as opposed to cracking open to the first page of Orientalism.

 

As for Foucault......there's always Sparknotes.  :D

 

(BTW, this is me assuming you're in a literature program, because I'd imagine you wouldn't have to deal with Foucault, Derrida and Said in a speech pathology school.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

BulletCat: It seems as if you have a tendency to confuse the words educated and smart. It is not correct to say you aren't smart because you haven't read something (well in this particular context). It is simply a matter of having different curriculums at school, different opportunities, influences and interests. Intelligence is a completely different issue that has to do with potential and ability, rather than exposure to a particular curriculum at school. Congrats on getting into such a great school!

Edited by jenste
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also go to an Ivy League graduate school.  I'm in an interdisciplinary program, which means that my first-year cohort was me (a psychologist), another psychology/women's studies major with former public health training, two anthropologists, two political scientists, and a historian.  Everyone else (including the other psychologist, because of her women's studies background) had lots of experience with theory - Foucault and Derrida and Marx and Bourdieu.  Psychologists don't do a lot of theory, and when we do it's very different than anthro/soc theory.  I had taken two philosophy classes in college, one a very basic freshman level one and one was a gender studies philosophy class that went completely over my head.

 

We had a one-year required first year class that was soc/anthro/poli sci theory based, and we read all of those people (and Appiah, and Connell, and a bunch of other people I didn't know).  Needless to say like you I felt very out of my depth.  I had very little interest in theory; I'm a quantitative researcher.  I didn't even know how to READ the theory we were being assigned.  There was literally one week in the entire class that had work I was vaguely familiar with; we read about some of Douglas Massey's quasi-experimental work in racial discrimination).  My classmates were and I intensely felt the imposter syndrome.

 

Then I took a chance on actually trying to get to know my classmates and realized that although they had the experience, some of them felt as uncertain as I did!  They felt overwhelmed by the amount of reading they had to do and although they were better prepared to engage with the text because of their previous reading assignments, they were no more familiar with the work than I was.  After I learned that I started speaking up more in class and asking questions, and exchanging confused WTF looks across the table with my friend the historian (whose theory is also very different from the course's theory).  I also found out that the professors actually thought I was doing quite well given my background, and that I approached the material in a different way *because* of my lack of exposure.

 

Sooo the moral is your classmates may not be as elitist as you think they are, and you may be doing better than you think.  It sounds like plain old imposter syndrome.  I will also add that since learning about them in my first year I have never used them again in my own research.  Psychologists simply don't use critical theory.  Buuuut it is useful to know for conversations across fields.

 

I also started out naive and adorable.  I was 22 when I started - I had JUST turned 22, and was the youngest doctoral student in the department. (Funny story, some of my department-mates joked that I was a child prodigy, but then a few students misinterpreted the joke and thought I was actually a child prodigy, and so for a short while there was a rumor going around that I was 19 in my third year of the doctoral program.  LOL.)  Anyway, it goes away eventually, especially if you work hard and prove yourself.  My advisor actually explicitly commented on it during one of our relaxed moments.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Always remember: the professors saw something (a whole lot of it) in you when they admitted you to your program! Everyone has their own academic strengths & weaknesses; you need not play off anyone else's strengths but your own.

 

As for the social theory, I've also been feeling super deficient in that area, as well as knowledge of my local history (I'm at a state school, and a lot of folks here have done a lot of their work in the Plains.. which happen to be one of the only places I haven't worked in the US). Basically, I've been trying to learn little snippets on the fly. For example, Madan Sarup has a helpful book called An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, which was helpful in navigating those confusing seas. I'm sure there's at least one similar book for Structuralism, Modernism, and so on. Sarup's was very affordable secondhand on Amazon- maybe you'll find it helpful? Just a thought. :)

 

I've given up a little bit of my free time here and there to read about social theory and local prehistory, but it's totally worth it for me, because it makes me feel like I'm up to speed enough where worries about my "weaknesses" (really, others' strengths) take a back seat to letting my strengths shine instead.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.