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My mom got her associates in accounting. My younger brother also completed an associates while I was incmy undergrad program, but then dropped out of bachelors. My older sister also dropped out of her bachelors program.

 When I was in my 2nd year, my dad finally went back to school for a bachelors and then two master's online. 

So, no I'm not first generation, but my parents were adult learners. So I'm the first generation traditional student. I also the first brick and mortar undergrad & grad.

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I am a first generation student. Neither of my parents went to college. I grew up well below the poverty line in a single-parent household and was completely supporting myself by 17. Academia has been

According to PNPI, 11% of low-income, first-generation college students will obtain a Bachelor's degree within six years of enrolling in school, compared to 55% of their more advantaged peers. We shou

I would say it does on an interpersonal/social level. Like OP I am first gen for both grad and undergrad. I'm still trying to explain to my family what a PhD even is, what I do in a program, what type

Like another user mentioned, impostor syndrome hits me hard. I am a first-generation student and while my parents have always told me that getting an education is the most important thing I can do for myself, they have had mixed reactions when I tell them about my ambitions to go to graduate school. I'm preparing to finish my third college degree (I earned an AA and AS at the same time) but because impostor syndrome is hitting me hard right now, I feel conflicted about my educational pursuits; however, I know my determination and passion will push me to keep going after my goals.

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First-generation immigrant whose parents are working class here!

I've become used to navigate education for myself since high school. My parents don't know English very well, let alone how to get into graduate school. It used to frustrate me that they understood so little of academia and what I studied (I once attempted to explain why I liked Albert Camus to my mom, to which she replied that she found existentialism stupid), but it is what it is. It makes me feel even better about myself that in spite of that I still obtained a bachelor's degree and will hopefully one day have a doctorate.

Also, I have quite a few cousins who completed their studies in medicine, engineering and other areas, so I guess I feel less isolated in that sense. Still, I push education among my siblings (two of them got into the same honors undergraduate program as me thanks to my guidance)--I'll make sure they too succeed.

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On 4/18/2016 at 12:10 PM, eternallyephemeral said:

Personally, I am fortunate to have other people in my family that have advanced degrees (my dad has a Masters and my uncle has a PhD, but my grandparents were immigrants to this country so our family recently moved up in socioeconomic status and education), and it definitely helped me feel that university was possible. Also, both of my parents went to the same school I'm at for undergrad, so that helped me feel more comfortable as well.

 

However, my boyfriend has immigrant parents who work at labour jobs (like construction and cleaning), and don't have very much education. His parents are similar to my grandparents, and his experience is similar to my dad's/aunt's experience. It has been really eye-opening to help him through the process of applying to graduate school, and especially to teach him about personal finance, negotiating, and self-confidence. One of the main things I see is that he doesn't know his own worth, especially regarding employment. It's extremely difficult to get paid to do research at the undergraduate level, but if his professor is offering to pay him, he counter-offers and says he'll work for free!

It's definitely difficult hearing that he struggled with impostor syndrome and that he saw classmates from highly educated backgrounds succeeding in the first few years of undergrad, but he has worked hard continuously and through that hard work and dedication, he's gotten farther than those classmates (at least educationally). However, these experiences were definitely shaped by his (crappy) teachers and guidance counsellors telling students at his (low income) school that none of them could get into university, that they should aim lower, and that they would be 'better suited' for college or to just work after high school.

So I think the low expectations that people from these communities learn to internalize is one of the biggest aspects working against you when it comes to improving your socioeconomic status. Because if no one expects much from you, and they tell you that you can't make it, it's easy to just believe them and not try very hard or not reach your full potential.

When I had sent my mother the invitation to attend my graduation ceremony (undergrad), she responded with something along the line of, "What!?  I thought that you were only taking classes!"  Meaning, she thought that I was only taking courses for personal enrichment, or something. 

I was never expected to go to college in the first place.  I was expected to join the Army and then to live the rest of my life as a proud blue collar/working class adult, preferably in some crud-hole coal mining town with the rest of the Polacks. As a quick aside:  I am aware the term "Polack" is meant to be an ethnic slur yet I don't know of any Polish-American, like myself, who is offended by it.  

I feel as though the above quoted post could have been written about me.  In particular, the line that I had put into bold.  I believe, the idea of taking what may be a paid position and offering to do it free might be something that only those from a true working class upbringing would understand.  It stems from the working class belief that one's worth is tied directly to the work they do, not what they produce, and what better to prove your work ethic than a willingness to work for free?  Of course, the desire to prove oneself worthy of reward is also a large part of it, and entitlement does plague working class communities like the rest, however you will find fewer working class individuals who are willing to accept something "just because" without first putting in the work.  

My grandfather on my mother's side did not attend college until he was 40.  He earned his A.S. in accounting then eventually earned his B.S. in accounting.  Turned out, he loved college and from there he continued to take one course per semester at a local community college.  He was taking a course in Spanish when he passed.  He had insisted that my mother (not his biological daughter, by the way, yet every bit my own grandfather as far as I am concerned) enroll in "dental school", which she thought was ludicrous.  After much pushing she finally decided to earn an A.S. in Dental Tech, which she now certainly regrets.  She earned her A.S. in her late 20s.  My father did attend university to wind up dropping out during his senior year.  He was out of the Army, 30 or so, and had other plans for his life, I suppose.  I have an older cousin who is currently doing an online MS.  She did undergrad during her 30s.  I have a niece who is going to attend college start after high school, which as far as I know will be the first in my family to do so that/this early.  I have another cousin who entered undergrad at 23 or so and is now doing an MS.  For myself, I did not step foot onto a college campus for the first time until aged 23 and I certainly did not graduate within four years.  Before I had graduated from a university I had attended three separate community colleges in three separate States followed by two universities in two different States. Try to explain that in an SOP.  

Growing up, I had learned to not ask for help from anyone but my peers.  Well, guidance counselors were the only exception.  From professors?  Heck no!  By the time I had landed at my third community college I had already knew that I wanted graduate school.  But I knew my grades alone could not cut.  I mean, I spent high school preparing for the Military, not college.  So I thought to do the only thing I knew how to do:  prove my work ethic. This idea was reinforced by some friends of my then current girlfriend who told me that experience trumps grades. Go big or go home, right?   I did this by joining student government as a representative then onto being elected vice-president for the entire undergrad student body.  I sat on a student welfare and retention committee as a student liaison.  I wrote for student newspapers for four years, becoming Editor-in-Chief during my Senior year.  I sat on a committee that recognized outstanding student achievement.  I was also nominated for Student of the Year during my Junior year.  I had also founded a robotics club and took our team to an international competition;  the first year we placed 17th which came with the distinction of having beat out MITs team, but the second year we had placed last. As far as I know, not one person on the team new a thing about robotics prior to this.  As another aside, the guy on the team who did all of our programming ended up transferring to an Institute (of technology--not MIT) and now works in AI/robotics.  Another guy from the team now operates an ROV from an R/V off the coast of Antarctica and has the lucky distinction of being one of the few human beings to step foot onto Antarctica numerous times. 

Also as an undergrad I had worked with coastal drifters, mostly with building them for a NOAA employee stationed at Woods Hole and then for another East Coast university. These things are equipped with GPS and used to map currents/patterns.  I deployed a few myself and had used the data collected to create a poster, which I presented at a GIS conference as part of a student exposition type of thing.  I did not present at the actual conference, so there is no confusion, nor do I allude to having done so on my CV.  My poster did take 4th place, though.  I had also worked a year doing chemistry research as a biology student. I took pride in that, in having beat out the chemistry students for the position.  Then I had learned later that the reason for this was that the project was so new to the PI that I was essentially tasked with getting it up and running, trouble-shooting, and the like.  I did rewrite the protocol as what the PI had me doing was not working with the available equipment.  My new protocol was not entirely a novel idea, I got the idea from researching literature.  However, the PI presented "my idea" at a conference a few years later.  I was asked to continue with this project for another year, at which point a chemistry student would take over my position.  I declined to spend two years doing research in the Biology Department. 

I also have about five years worth of volunteer work relating to coastal ecology and processes.  And then of course, I had worked full time during all of this.

I had applied to Ph.D. programs three years in a row and it turns out that experience does not trump grades.  My total uGPA is 2.97.  I possibly could've scored a little higher had I not participated in so much EC and it does pain me to see some GradCafe users claim to have been accepted into Ph.D. programs with just-over 3.0 GPAs and not even half of my experience, research or otherwise.  Then again, I have read stories of undergrads who did more than me and still managed to graduate with high 3.X GPAs, so I dunno.  It's hard not feel that it is all a game.  Play by the rules, and you win.  Maybe. 

I got grades back from my first semester as an MS student:  two semester courses, and two As.  I had also taking two five week crash courses in computer programming, sort of computer programming for non-CS majors, earlier in the semester.  Both were Pass/Fail and I had passed both with scores of 99% and 93%.  I knew from those grad students mentioned above and from their friends as well as a few others that graduate school "worked" with my brain, with my way style of learning, and with way of showing how I had learned what was taught (through doing, projects, presentations, essays/papers) and not through rote memorization/multiple choice.  But how do you explain all this in an SOP?  I want to cry.  

I apologize if this is jumbled; I wrote this post throughout the course of the day. 

 

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My parents are both lawyers, so they're like "WTF is this, how did we end up with a kid doing biosciences??" and the whole PhD process is super foreign to all of us. Plenty of my family did post-graduate professional degrees (like lawyers and dentists and stuff) but to my knowledge nobody in my extended family has gone the academia route. It's weird!! I'm definitely lucky to have had good mentors in undergrad, both professors/PIs and current grad students to talk to about the process, because I seriously don't know what I'd have done without them.

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Most of my family is in education- my parents are paraprofessionals, my sister and numerous cousins are elementary school teachers.  My great-uncle is still working in higher ed in his 80s- he retired last summer from being provost of my undergrad and got called three weeks later from the same uni and got offered a dean position, which he accepted.  I was supposed to go into education, either teach K-12 or go into higher ed administration. I will be an historian, hopefully a professor, so I guess I am kind-of following the family line.

I do love administration, though, and may keep that as an idea for the future.  I was Student Government Vice President and then President, so I was on 15 university wide committees for two years and volunteered as a student liaison at the state capitol.  I LOVE being on committees and I love the back-of-the-house work. I also love university functions and being in front of crowds- SGA President leads convocation, speaks at the MLK banquet, and introduces the speaker at commencement. 

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Strange situation where both parents had university degrees but because they were immigrants from [not a Western, English-speaking, developed nation] it was almost as if the degrees didn't really matter? I also just found out my mother actually went to get her Master's (and dropped out after coursework and before completing a thesis) in accounting which I was never told until after I got my own Master's...

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I am first generation student, both at the undergraduate level and hopefully now at the graduate. My dad was a factory worker until he got sick with MS nearly a decade ago and my mom stayed at home to watch after my sisters and I. Education was important in my family, but never pushed. I remember telling my mom that I wanted to attend university (through merit based scholarships, loans, and financial aid) and her words were, "If you want to go to college, go for it. You'll have to figure it out on your own though because I can't help you." Now let me tell you, financial information is super complicated to a 16 year old, and I was fairly certain I did everything wrong, but fast forward 7+ years and here I am with a bachelors degree in biophysics and applications out for PhD programs. Education has always been my focus and I feel impostor syndrome ALL the time, but I think what's important is tenacity. Whether you're a first generation student or you come from a long line of PhDs, your motives and your love for discovery must outshine everything else. 

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Neither of my parents even graduated high school, so I'm not really sure how I happened. Graduated early with a 3.8 and a degree in mathematics. Currently being paid to do research in Germany (I'm from the US). Now I'm waiting to hear back from pure math PhD programs! My parents were kind and loving, but zero help in this process, lol. They have no idea how aaaany of this works. 

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In my opinion, this question is a rough standard for universities to check your background, if they do. Generally, if you are the 1st person in your family who attends university, that means maybe you come from a poor family. Thus, the committee may value your chance more than others. That's only my guess. I'm not sure.

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I'm not first generation, but both of my parents were. Mom got a master's and my sis and I actually got to see my dad's graduation from undergrad (he'd earned a couple associate's before that). My sis and I both have MA's (her's in psychology, mine in applied anthropology), so not sure if we're in the same direction as either parent (mom did her degrees in theater and dad in computer science). I am the first in my immediate family to get into a PhD though. 

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First generation, chiming in! My dad is an older father, African American from rural Texas, and was actual a child during segregation (crazy to think that was so recent). His family was too poor to send him to even an HBCU, so he went into the military. Mother is an immigrant from Southeast Asia, English is her third language. They both only have high school diplomas and worked so ridiculously hard to help me succeed. I'm the youngest of 7, and the first ever to even think about doing grad school. I had no idea what to do until my advisor and secondary readers had a nice, long talk with me after my thesis defense (I'm currently on a gap year as a teaching assistant!)

I love my family to death and they have always been outstandingly supportive of my decisions in school. At first, they were upset I didn't go the "guaranteed job" route (Medicine, Law, etc. but it's hard enough to explain to them that those roads are not always straight and narrow), but they love the concept of me getting a PhD (also not straight and narrow lol.) The "gap" between my parents and I is blaringly evident sometimes. I studied a foreign language and have had awesome travel opportunities to France (Study abroad, a fellowship and now my teaching assistantship). People would always say, "You must get that travel bug from your parents!" but no; dad traveled in the military and mom traveled to immigrate. I travel because I have the opportunity and am enriching my studies... they traveled because they had to survive. I studied existentialism and psychoanalysis, convoluted topics even for academics. It can be hard knowing that they busted their asses and worked so hard to give me these opportunities, but I can't properly express what it is I'm doing. So all I can do is thank them :) Their enthusiasm makes up for it, though! When I wrote and shelved my thesis at my undergraduate's archive, I just thought it was a silly little thesis tradition that all honors undergrads do. However, my family was so excited that our family name was on a book in a university library haha. When I got into Berkeley, my mom broke down crying on the phone. 

Sometimes, I get winded just thinking about how much can happen within generations. My parents drive me so much, that I was more likely to apply to programs with a diversity/familial background essay options. Programs with diversity programs or choices for first generation students (that are more than just a recruiting tactic) are also a huge plus. I even openly say that one of my goals as a professor is to mentor for Mellon Mays or McNair. Gotta hold the door open! 

Edited by madamoiselle
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Neither of my parents finished college.  One of my grandparents has a master's degree (Education), the other three did not.  Of my generation, my cousin and cousin-in-law both have terminal masters degrees (architecture and theatre, respectively).  Nobody has a PhD or other doctoral degree (MD, JD, etc.).  Well, I guess I have a step-aunt who has a PhD, but she's a very new entrant to the family; I can count the number of times I've met her on one hand.  So I don't think she counts (although she's a delightful person).


That said, nobody in my family was surprised to hear that I'd be pursing doctoral work.  I've always been the kid who was far more interested in her book than in playing.  Still am, although these days I'm better with faking it with conversation. :-)

 

I think that "first generation" usually only applies to parents and grandparents.  So I don't personally identify as a first generation.  But I do think that the social pressures of someone whose parents finished college are very different from someone who only had grandparents.  I would imagine that the former would hear a lot more about college than the latter, and it would be more an assumption than a question.

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I am first generation for both undergrad and grad. Growing up, college was never really something that I thought of as a possibility. My parents did mostly manual jobs (driving school bus, janitorial jobs, cleaning houses, factory work) so around the dinner table, the prospect of attending college was never really brought up. The guidance counselors I had in high school were unsupportive. Mine tried to push me towards a trade school instead of a university, despite me having no interest. 

When I was thinking of initially applying, my family fell into hard financial times. We lost our house. We ended up living in a tent for a few months during my senior year of high school. Despite the economic hardships, my parents urged me to still go to school because they saw a degree as an escape from our circumstances. 

My parents were always supportive of me pursuing further education. My dad especially because he always wanted to go onto do more school, but different things (getting drafted, having my older siblings, etc.) prohibited him from ever going while he was young. Though they encouraged me to go forward with school, navigating through the system was definitely challenging. I had to figure out things like deciding on what schools to apply to, what major to select, how to change a major, and financial aid on my own.

Then for grad school, the process was entirely alien. I was lucky to have good mentors during my undergrad to coach me through the process. With my parents, I still can't really talk to them about the research I do or my classes (last time I tried, my mom started talking about how it was like an article she read on "the Google"). 

 

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I'm also a first-generation college grad. When I arrived at undergrad, I couldn't figure out why people were calling it that--I didn't know what it was "under." My sibling and I were the first in our entire extended family to attend university (aunts, uncles, cousins). Now I have an aunt and a few cousins who have degrees, but we're still the exceptions by far. This makes family gatherings difficult sometimes--they can't understand why I don't get a job and start making money. They really can't understand why I bring work home. This has caused a great deal of friction in my family when I'm home for holidays. I take some time off to enjoy their company, but they do not understand that just because I'm home for a few weeks doesn't mean I have that whole time to just sit and talk or help work on the farm. 

I know that many of you are saying having a parent in academia does not give you much of an advantage, but I think having parents who can advise you on the right type of college is a pretty big advantage. My parents told me they couldn't help pay for it, and because I never met with a college counselor, I assumed the only school I could afford was the one down the road. Looking back now at my test scores and grades, I should have been shooting much higher. Of course, you could say it's all worked out--I'm in my dream graduate program now, but I can't help thinking how much better prepared and articulate I might be if I had gone to a more rigorous undergraduate institution. 

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7 minutes ago, Levon3 said:

I'm also a first-generation college grad. When I arrived at undergrad, I couldn't figure out why people were calling it that--I didn't know what it was "under." My sibling and I were the first in our entire extended family to attend university (aunts, uncles, cousins). Now I have an aunt and a few cousins who have degrees, but we're still the exceptions by far. This makes family gatherings difficult sometimes--they can't understand why I don't get a job and start making money. They really can't understand why I bring work home. This has caused a great deal of friction in my family when I'm home for holidays. I take some time off to enjoy their company, but they do not understand that just because I'm home for a few weeks doesn't mean I have that whole time to just sit and talk or help work on the farm. 

I know that many of you are saying having a parent in academia does not give you much of an advantage, but I think having parents who can advise you on the right type of college is a pretty big advantage. My parents told me they couldn't help pay for it, and because I never met with a college counselor, I assumed the only school I could afford was the one down the road. Looking back now at my test scores and grades, I should have been shooting much higher. Of course, you could say it's all worked out--I'm in my dream graduate program now, but I can't help thinking how much better prepared and articulate I might be if I had gone to a more rigorous undergraduate institution. 

I agree with your second paragraph a lot but I did not know how to phrase it. Even people who had parents that have their bachelor's have an advantage. My parents know NOTHING about college, nonetheless anything about graduate school. I was on my own for pretty much everything. If I weren't surrounded by friends who had parents in the know when I was younger, I probably never would have even gone to my undergrad. And now I have a great undergrad mentor that helped me a lot. 

 

Ditto on the first paragraph too. My mom gets so mad when I visit but have to take time out of the day to get some studying done. Oh well, they just miss us, I guess. :rolleyes:

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My sister and I are the first ones to pursue anything higher than a bachelor's degree. It was always expected that we would go to a 4-year university (which I'm sure was influenced by my parents having already achieved that level of education), but the decision to go any further was never really put out there directly.

Indirectly, though, I think our parents influenced our decision to pursue higher education because they never felt that their degrees were "enough." They never achieved, earned, or saved as much as their 2nd+ generation/white/wealthier colleagues. They also instilled this mantra of "do better than us, go further than us" that I think a lot of 1st gen kids (and others, I'm sure) carry around.

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I still have to explain my mum the difference between a Master's and PhD (every time). Latest comment - but you're a 'master' in your field, doesn't that mean you're finished? 

Love her.

 

It took her also 2 years into my undergrad to notice I was actually working hard - she had this perception of university being just having fun, taking a class every now and then, and then you would get your degree. 

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Both my parents tried university but dropped after a year. However they have always highly valued education for me, probably because they didn't really have one. They are the ones pushing me to try for a Ph.D. While its great to be supported, they do not know much about academia and it can get really furstrating. They have no idea how hard it actually is. When I got my BA , they barely congratulated me because to them there was no way I would not have it. Same for my Masters. They think its like high school you do the bare minimum and you're good.

 

If you look at my extended family, a lot of them work in factories or rural area and criticized me for wasting my time at university. 

Edited by Charlie Moon
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I am also the first in my immediate family to pursue any degree higher than a bachelor's. For all of those who have been mentioning that a PhD is only for the "most knowledgeable" candidates, or even feeling the pangs of impostor syndrome (so much fun), I can confidently say that the overwhelming majority of PhD advisers/mentors are not the "smartest" in their field. They just have a massive amount of experience in one field! I find a lot of people forget that their advisers tend to have 10+ years of experience on them which is why it appears that they "know everything". Even some of the smartest PhD candidates I know still fail to pick up on the smallest of details that are only identified through years and years of experience. So keep on grinding and hustling. Get excited :)

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So, my mom has a Master's in Education and has taught at the local community college back home for my entire life; Dad is the only one of his siblings to graduate high school, but took it no further than that. I'm from southeast Kentucky, so up until recently most of the men on either side of the family were either coal miners, or worked in some coal-related side industry (e.g., one of my grandfathers was a miner, the other a coal truck driver). On Dad's side I was the first to get a Bachelor's; on both sides, I'll be the first to get a PhD.

I've said this elsewhere on the forum, but the biggest stress for me during my application process was my dad's difficulty in understanding that I'd be moving really far away. He's tried to be supportive, but he gets really hung up on the distance, to the point that it's usually clouded every exchange we've had. When I called home to tell my parents that my partner and I had decided on University of Denver, he immediately started crying. It was...rough.

Way back before I ever sent out my first application, we talked about how it would be very difficult for me to find the right school if I limited myself to an area near home. He said to me, "I've always been proud of you for succeeding, but now I'm worried you've succeeded yourself too far away from me." I'm thinking a lot more about that comment lately, and I think that might get at the heart of the struggles that many of us with a decidedly non-academic parent have felt in all those awkward silences and defensive conversations. I know that Dad is very proud of me, and I know that he always wanted me to do something very different from him and the other men in his family; at the same time, I don't think he expected that push to be different to send me clear across the country. Almost all of Dad's family still lives in my home county (even more narrowly, about half of them still live in the same holler) and I don't think he'd given much thought to the notion that I might well and truly leave.

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My mom has a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and has the professional engineer certification. She has a very successful career.  My dad got a bachelor's degree in geology and went for his master's in geology. However, he dropped out from his masters one semester before he was suppose to graduate because he realized that he did not want to spend the rest of his life studying rocks in rural locations/on mountains. Very soon after dropping out, he became a financial advisor. He didn't go to school for it, but I guess took a series of courses. Anyways, that's what he is now (and that's actually how he met my mom) and is very successful. 

I haven't officially been accepted to grad school yet, but I would be the first in my family to hold a master's degree. There may be some extended family members with a master's, though. Most people in my family have some sort of degree. My parents are very academic focused and made sure I always did my best in school. They would go out of their way to help me. They always encouraged me to go for what I wanted, and would support me 100% in whatever I decided. I definitely wouldn't be here without them. 

Edited by pianoplaya94
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My mother met my supervisor the other day - something to do with graduating and me needing a ride to uni. It was extremely embarrassing and painful (mainly for her). She also thinks she knows a lot about psychology because she read three self-help books by Dr. Phil or something. Other than that she was trying very hard to impress him, half the stuff she said didn't make sense and was based on 'personal experiences' and blabla - please don't share half your life with him in an attempt for pity and trying to sound interesting. The things she said just didn't make any sense and it was just so weird and awkward. Plus her English is just weird (non-native speaker in non-English country). My supervisor was just nice, but I could see he was like 'wtf should I do with this'. At least I told my supervisor she would act like this in advance and just brush her off. It was just sooooooo uncomfortable. And the worst part is she doesn't even realize how awkward this is for everyone. 

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I couldn’t be more different from my parents, but I am adopted.  My parents finished high school, and that was it.  I was the first person in my family to attend university and to pursue graduate studies.  It means there’s a lot of things I didn’t know about, especially during my undergrad.  It also means my parents really never understood me, as I’ve always been a “good student” and driven to excel academically (perhaps because I am adopted, I felt I had to “prove” myself).

Compared to many of my peers (who had parents who were professionals who had degrees or advanced degrees) I’ve definitely felt at a disadvantage.  There are lots of things I had to figure out myself, and some that I never really figured out until it was much too late for it to make a difference.  Somehow I’ve managed to do well in my studies and I’ve been accepted to a PhD program.  My family may not understand why this is important to me, or the value of my education, but others (such as my spouse) totally make up for it.  My spouse is so incredibly supportive.  I would not have been able to make it this far without him.

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