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S.K.

Panic Attack before school start!!!!

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Hello

I am an international student and I have been accepted for a PhD in the US. I never left so far from home before, even as an undergrad I lived like a 30min car drive away from home. I've been with someone for 4 years and we have been always together, I was never away from him for long periods of time. 1 month was the most we haven't seen each other. He will come with me to the states and he will stay 2 weeks to help me settle in.

My problem: I fly in less than a week and I'm having panic attacks, I cry all night, I can't concentrate and I'm really scared! I'm thinking of my family and my boyfriend who I will only see on Skype till christmas. The program I will start needs a 3.5 GPA in order to stay in good standing, this worries me as I have never been a top student. I mean, I'm an alright student, but I never went the extra mile, I always did what I had to do, you can call that lazy :P I would put me in the B range. I'm scared that I will fail and that they will kick me out after one semester. I even went as far as thinking that I don't really wanna do this.

Did it happen to anyone? Am I just getting cold feet for being alone for the first time? Or should I really be concerned?

I would appreciate any advice!

Thank you

Edited by S.K.

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The time right before you move is one of the hardest. Major changes are about to happen, but first you are forced to wait. The imagination can go wild. What you are describing sounds normal under the circumstances.

 

My advice would be to make the most of these last few days when you're with family, make sure you have some nice recent memories. But when you're alone, spend the time planning for when you move. Read up on your city; there is a lot to know -- use google street view to learn about the neighborhood surrounding your university and your new apartment. If you don't have an apartment yet, read up on neighborhoods, browse some postings. If you'll be there in less than a week then now is not too early to begin looking. Familiarize yourself with the transportation system. Find out which cell company has the best reception in your area; read up on internet providers and see if you can already contact one (it can take obscenely long for a technician to come install your internet once you've signed up for the service). Read up on banks and local grocery stores. Find where the local thrift stores are, in case you need quick stuff to get you started in your new apartment. Look up furniture stores and large retail stores. Find out where the nearest mall is and how you get there. Find out who the mayor of your city is, when the last election was, what the state capital is, who is the governor. Start planning your life in your new city.

 

Everyone has some kind of adjustment period and struggle when they first move, this is to be expected, too. The first semester may not be completely smooth sailing. However, your program clearly thinks you have what it takes to succeed, or they wouldn't have admitted you. Trust them!

 

As part of your prep, if this helps you, read up on resources and requirements in your department and university. What are the first-year courses like? Are there other requirements? Will you be assigned an advisor immediately -- if so, read up on them. Who is the Director of Graduate Studies in your department? Who is the chair? What is the secretary's name and where is her office? Is there a student rep who might be there to help? Within your university, is there an orientation? Are there activities to help you make new friends? Are there support groups on campus? Where is medical and health services? (You might not need them, but the time to find out this information is not when you need it but long before, so you're not burdened even further when you're in need.) Is there a sports center? What courses does it offer -- is there anything you want to sign up for? 

 

Gathering information and making plans helps you have some control over your life. The hard part is having to passively wait and only know what you'll be missing at home, but not about all the new opportunities that will become available once you move. Thinking and planning ahead will help you get excited about what you'll gain by moving and hopefully remind you why you chose to do this in the first place. Remember that what you are going through happens to everyone, to some degree, but it doesn't mean you won't be as successful as your school already thinks you are. Good luck! 

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Thank you for your kind words and advice!

I have decided to bail, I am sure that I will fail. I am absolutely sure that I can not get A- in every class (yes my department requires of me an A- in every class for the first year). People have been telling me to try and that I can do it if I try hard enough but I can't. I know that, and I surely can't with the mentality I am having know. So I decided to not even start the program. 

good luck to anyone who is starting a PhD, I admire you, I wish I was as strong as you are.

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The only surefire way to fail is to never try. You can absolutely get an A- or higher in every class, especially since the default grade in most graduate courses is an A. Well, I mean you can unless you don't try. Talk to some more senior graduate students in the program to get a sense of how hard one has to work to do well in coursework. I seriously think that you're letting your anxiety get the better of you. Try to remember why you applied and why you ever wanted to pursue a PhD in this field. If those reasons still exist, if you still want a career that requires the PhD, then you're letting a few days of panic (which, again, happen to everyone) derail your entire future.

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I have decided to bail, I am sure that I will fail. I am absolutely sure that I can not get A- in every class (yes my department requires of me an A- in every class for the first year).

Ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? 

You can succeed, but you have to try! I have no doubt that you can maintain a higher average than an A- since, as rising_star explains, in most Humanities programs I know of, everyone always gets an A unless something is *seriously* wrong. (As in, in my program I know of one time that one person got a B in the entire time I was there, and that person came in with absolutely no background in our field and was busy making up 3 years of undergrad material at the same time as taking a grad course. They are graduating with their PhD this summer!). More importantly, courses are *not* the most important component of a PhD program. They are there to give you some structure and teach you some background and skills you don't know, but what really matters is the research. 

You need to change the tune in your head NOW. You can do it, you are good enough. Don't give up without even trying, you will absolutely regret it later. Give it a year. (Not a semester, a year!). And during that year, do your best to make it work, as we here all know you can. Even if you don't know it now, trust all the people around you who have been telling you that you're just not seeing things straight. If you've tried and couldn't make it work, then you can explore avenues to pursue next. But don't negate all your hard work and walk away from a dream because of things you imagine happening that we have exactly zero reason to believe will come true.  

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As I don't really know how grad school works in the U.S. I kinda found it strange when I read that everyone gets an A? is this true? If yes, why do they even exist? I mean, they could give out Fail/Pass grades.....

I imagined myself going through immense pressure to maintain the 3.5 and failing. When I will get my grades on Christmas and see the less the 3.5 (example: 3.2) than I can't even continue. I would fall out of good standing, and I would be out of the program! Or is there something I don't see?

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I don't think it is true at all that everyone gets an A.   That is actually kind of ridiculous.  Maybe if they're getting a graduate degree in basket weaving or something.  But you can certainly get the grades if you work hard and do your best.  That said, I think not going it probably a good decision for you at this point.  You seem really freaked out and unsure of yourself and that's not a good place to start from. 

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I don't think it is true at all that everyone gets an A.   That is actually kind of ridiculous.  Maybe if they're getting a graduate degree in basket weaving or something.  But you can certainly get the grades if you work hard and do your best.  That said, I think not going it probably a good decision for you at this point.  You seem really freaked out and unsure of yourself and that's not a good place to start from. 

Hello poster who started a professional (MSW) degree a year ago in Canada. Why are you giving such definitive-sounding advice to someone about to start a research-based PhD in the Humanities in the US? You clearly don't have any experience or knowledge of how such programs work. I assume you didn't mean to come across as dismissive of people whose degrees are from programs that have a "everyone gets an A" policy (a sizable proportion of people on this board, I would say, most of whom to my knowledge not studying basketweaving), but you did. 

 

As I don't really know how grad school works in the U.S. I kinda found it strange when I read that everyone gets an A? is this true? If yes, why do they even exist? I mean, they could give out Fail/Pass grades.....

I imagined myself going through immense pressure to maintain the 3.5 and failing. When I will get my grades on Christmas and see the less the 3.5 (example: 3.2) than I can't even continue. I would fall out of good standing, and I would be out of the program! Or is there something I don't see?

As rising_star and I said above, the default grade in Humanities (and Social Science) graduate programs is an A. The letter grade is there because most universities are simply set up to expect it, but you are not studying for a grade anymore and shouldn't be worrying about it. You are not an undergrad anymore. These programs use grades simply to indicate "doing graduate-level work" (A) vs. "struggling, red flag" (B or less). Anything other than an A is very rare.

I would urge you to contact someone -- the DGS or senior students -- at your prospective department and ask two questions: first, what is the grading policy in graduate courses (does everyone doing acceptable work get an A, or is there more of a range)? Second, how often are students kicked out of the program for poor grades? I would be willing to bet that it is exceedingly rare, if it ever happens. Don't pursue imagined doom scenarios to illogical conclusions; instead, find out what truly holds by asking the people with the relevant knowledge what the facts are. 

 

Also, see here for some more discussion of grades: http://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/27201-do-phd-grades-matter/ . The thing to take from the discussion is that regardless of whether the program gives everyone As or uses grades differently (which you might notice correlates to a high degree with whether the program is in the Sciences or in the Humanities/Social Sciences), the expected GPA you have to maintain also changes accordingly. The minimum GPA you have to maintain is not going to be the average for the program, it is going to be significantly lower than that.  So when people in that thread say "most people in my program have a 3.7 average" or whatever, that is clearly within what is expected for their program and is not a problem. 

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I don't think it is true at all that everyone gets an A.   That is actually kind of ridiculous.  Maybe if they're getting a graduate degree in basket weaving or something.  But you can certainly get the grades if you work hard and do your best.  That said, I think not going it probably a good decision for you at this point.  You seem really freaked out and unsure of yourself and that's not a good place to start from. 

Having done my graduate degrees at two different institutions and then worked at two more, I can say that yes, the A is pretty much the default. There were people in my master's program who got grades lower than an A in one particular course but they also weren't doing the reading, participating in class discussions, etc. So their grade was a warning/red flag (as fuzzylogician says above) about their performance. Pretty much all of those students subsequently graduated. And, this was not a graduate degree in basket weaving, just fyi. There was an entire discussion about whether PhD grades matter here that you might want to consult as well.

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So, if I do my homework, participate in class, go to my professors for advice on papers and such, write a decent semester paper (not a great one, because, lets be real, I'm European and there is no way that I will write an A paper in the first semester, mainly because I have no idea how to write in a different format and style) but lets say that my paper is decent. Will that get me an A-? 

just so that I can compare with what I'm used to here in Europe

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So, if I do my homework, participate in class, go to my professors for advice on papers and such, write a decent semester paper (not a great one, because, lets be real, I'm European and there is no way that I will write an A paper in the first semester, mainly because I have no idea how to write in a different format and style) but lets say that my paper is decent. Will that get me an A-? 

just so that I can compare with what I'm used to here in Europe

Look, we can't guarantee you anything, but at least in my program I would expect such work to get an A. 

If you ask me now, in hindsight I think all the papers I wrote in my first year were pretty meh. Only one of them (out of 6) turned into something, in fact, but they all got As. Having later taught/TAed for such intro courses, I can tell you a lot of work at this stage is rough and not too well developed; that is within expectations and earns students an A. It is not expected that students will make groundbreaking discoveries in all of their classes and have fully polished papers within a semester. What is expected is that you identify the good ideas in your work and follow up on them after the course is done. *It is the research output that counts*. A final paper for a class is never the final stage of any project, often it is a rough first one.  

I think it would do you a world of good if you could seek out a senior student in your prospective program who would agree to share their experiences with you. I've done this before for incoming students in my program and I'm sure there will be someone willing to talk in your program too. Ask whoever you corresponded with when you got admitted for someone's name and contact information; say you have some questions about grad student life in the program. Ask the student to talk on Skype; people are more forthcoming when there is no paper trail. We can tell you what is likely to happen based on our experiences, but what you really want is someone who is already there and has knowledge particularly for your case.

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When taking part in classes there are usually opportunities to practice your essay-writing before the final graded papers are turned in. If English isn't your first language then you can make use of the university writing centres to look over your papers and check your grammar. You can ask senior grad students to look over drafts of your essay if you're really worried about grades and not meeting the acceptable standards for American semester papers. No one is expecting you to begin grad school as a perfect scholar (that's why you're going to grad school after all!) - they're expecting you to learn and develop as you go along. 

From a personal perspective as foreigner who moved to the USA by themselves to work and then later return to grad school...I've never once regretted my decision to move abroad. The experience was fantastic: I grew and matured a lot as a person, my world views changed for the better, I had a lot of cool experiences that I'd never have stumbled upon if I hadn't moved abroad. I met some really interesting people and make a lot of good friends. I would REALLY encourage you to take the opportunity to move to a new country - I think you will surprise yourself with how well you do.

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Hey SK, I remember your avatar from the Languages sub-forum. Your post sort of mirrors how I have been feeling, although I never once considered bailing. No way am I going to do that after coming this far and getting into a top program. No way, they'll have to take me out in a bag. Have you spoken with your advisor? I have this awesome advisor that has really stood up for me. I'm teaching from day one and my advisor flew interference to get me the schedule I need. Are you going to be teaching German? My program is really focused on research and teaching.

This is an awesome thread, I can really relate to the message, it is intimidating to make such a big move.

Edited by eyepod

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Hey SK

I am exactly going through with what all you had to say. I have never been away from home and this is my first time in the US for my PhD. My classes start tomorrow and I am pretty much freaked out. I think I am reeling with homesickness and doubts over my capabilities. I seem to find everyone smarter than me in the department and I feel no way on earth could I compete with them and maintain my grades. I was about to post a similar thread but I am hanging on by a thin margin. I am talking with my friends back home and sort of venting it out to them. I am a TA and I feel I would fail badly in that as well.

I am clueless and depressed at the moment and I am just hanging on, reading posts on how to cope with PhD related depression and such similar sorts.

 

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I think feeling like this is totally normal; I've got the same jitters and I haven't started yet (my first classes are on the 2nd). I'm moving from the west coast to New York City, so there are going to be a lot of changes coming up, not just for me, but all of us.

When I toured my school, I remember the PhD student telling me when he first started there on his Master's that he felt like he wasn't smart enough and that he couldn't hack it, etc.-- he said the first several weeks and the first semester overall were tough, but he came through it and look: he's in the PhD program now! It's normal to feel like this. I felt the same way when I transferred schools as an undergrad my junior year, but I settled in and grew more and more comfortable. I think the main thing to remember is that it's mostly about adjustment; getting into the rhythm and intricacies of grad school. I'm half-mortified and half-elated about starting, and I think self-doubt, nervousness, and even some depression is normal, but as you find your place, it should subside.

Edited by drownsoda

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Hello


I am an international student and I have been accepted for a PhD in the US. I never left so far from home before, even as an undergrad I lived like a 30min car drive away from home. I've been with someone for 4 years and we have been always together, I was never away from him for long periods of time. 1 month was the most we haven't seen each other. He will come with me to the states and he will stay 2 weeks to help me settle in.


My problem: I fly in less than a week and I'm having panic attacks, I cry all night, I can't concentrate and I'm really scared! I'm thinking of my family and my boyfriend who I will only see on Skype till christmas. The program I will start needs a 3.5 GPA in order to stay in good standing, this worries me as I have never been a top student. I mean, I'm an alright student, but I never went the extra mile, I always did what I had to do, you can call that lazy

:P

I would put me in the B range. I'm scared that I will fail and that they will kick me out after one semester. I even went as far as thinking that I don't really wanna do this.


Did it happen to anyone? Am I just getting cold feet for being alone for the first time? Or should I really be concerned?



I would appreciate any advice!



Thank you

You can take this for what it's worth but you might benefit from medication (if you're not already on something).  I did my master's a few years ago and I really struggled with the transition and my first semester was really rough for me.  By the time I came back from that first winter break I felt I was starting to understand what was going on and everything improved from there.  This fall I'm going back for a PhD and I felt myself getting anxious again.  My doctor recommended a low dose antidepressant/anti-anxiety for a few months until I get settled into my new life.  I've been on it for a month and I'm already noticing an improvement.  If you're having panic attacks and crying every night it might be something to think about.

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