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Seminar paper anxiety!!!! Advice??

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Hey All,

I'm wrapping up my first semester of my comp/rhet MA, and I am in full-blown panic mode. I've been doing well enough in my two rhetorical theory courses and am writing about two things that interest me, but I can't help but feel inadequate and like I'm going to fail (huzzah, imposter syndrome). My professors love my topics and think I'm on the right track (they're due in two weeks), but I'm literally shaking as I'm typing this because I still have no idea what I'm trying to say, exactly, and how (even though I have some solid research and a few mainish points). 

One professor is notoriously picky and has been marking me down for my writing style (too verbose, not concise enough, etc.). I've been making good progress (which my professor has noticed and praised), but for this 15 - 20 page seminar paper, I just fear that I'm going to screw it up terribly and get a B (or worse) in the course (even though I currently have a solid A with participation built in).

I'm going to meet with the professor soon and get some feedback/advice, but what else can I do to get through this? Not gonna lie - I feel really bad about it (even though I was originally excited about my topics).  I've been keeping my head above water up until this point, but for some reason, I'm just crumbling now (which I know is normal....).

I'd appreciate any advice here, or any stories of how you've overcome your insecurities and the hell that is the end of the semester. It's just... rougher than I thought it'd be, and it makes me question if this is really what I want to go through for the next several years of my life (dramatic, I know, but that's where I'm at!). Right now I plan on stepping away from my writing to clear my head a bit, and hopefully it'll be better tomorrow?

Thanks in advance.



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Sorry you're going through this, @klader! It is indeed a very tough time of year, and this past Sunday I felt close to crumbling myself (I was literally catatonic for several ten-minute stretches...which was VERY odd for me).

My one, take-it-or-leave-it scrap of advice is this: give yourself one day -- one FULL day -- to do NOTHING related to school. Your brain is going to rebel against this idea, but do it anyhow. Go and see a double-feature in the theater. Play a video game. Go ice skating. Do a pub crawl with friends. Whatever you find entertaining and mind-distracting, do it. There's a good chance that this will truly allow your critical thinking centers to rest, only to have them rarin' to go the next day.

It's hard advice to follow, but I firmly believe (from first-hand experience) that it works. Hope you can manage to do it!

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I've found that the first semester (first year??), there IS a lot of that anxiety, that "I'm not REALLY smart enough/am I putting forth quality-enough work" feeling.

My advice? Talk to your professors. Grading isn't like it is in Undergrad. Your professors are aware that good grades are necessary, and...if you're getting an A now, you'll likely get an A at the end, whatever marks you've gotten to date. (I can't guarantee this, because every program is different, but...Hence why I suggest talking to your profs, or to other students who have been in the program a year or more.) That doesn't mean that your professors won't mark hard on you - that's their job: to make you better, and show you where you can improve. (Because we're never as smart as our egos sometimes like to make us.)

Other than that, just power through. These last couple weeks are the crappiest ones in grad school, and your professors are ALSO aware of this. With a lot of the responsibilities thrown on us, as grad students, they understand, and some will even allow extensions, for that purpose. Just research, write your brains out, and take a break, like Wyatt's suggested. You can only ever do so much, and, if you are working as hard as you say? You'll do fine, I'd almost guarantee an A, without knowing your school personally.

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Thank you both so much! I really appreciate it. And I will try to set aside some time this weekend to just relax a bit. 

I have talked to other students in the program, and word on the street is that this professor is just the toughest one in our department. They've said that a lot of people have gotten their writing/ideas torn up and that some have indeed gotten Bs in the class, but the professor is just like that. They say it's like a different standard with this prof, and that this standard might possibly be known by others in the field (I mentioned I was nervous of having a low grade from this class for PhD admissions). 

I met with the prof today and I feel a lot better. We had a great chat about my paper, I have a better idea of how to frame it, and I know it'll all be okay and that I just have to buckle down and get the draft written (and then revise, revise, revise!). Other professors have even offered to work with me on my prose once I get it written, so that's encouraging, too. 

The first year indeed is an experience. I wasn't prepared for the pure emotional drain, but can one even be prepared for it? Here's hoping it gets better. 

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