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Staring PhD with MA


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I am in my first term of my PhD.  I came in with my M.A. and my new cohort was about 10 people.  I am having problems, however, with my new colleagues in terms of how they see my MA work.  I am baffled as they reach out to older cohorts for advice but scoff and dismiss what I have to offer.  They act like, whenever I mention insights I have to grad school, like the insights I have to this process from my last program only matter to that program.  I get it they are young/mostly straight out of undergrad (or the workforce) and have never done this and I remember trying to build myself up/prove myself- but I was always so impressed by the work it took to earn an MA that I was always open to hearing anything someone with an MA had to share with me.  Even now my peers (who will have to earn MAs along the way/they are technically a year or two behind me in the program the way it is set up) are even upset whenever I mention things I learned about myself from before...I just am baffled and don't know what I can do.  I stopped giving advice even when asked.  I do sometimes talk about my past but in the same way they talk about their undergrad or work pasts...it is just literally the last thing I was doing/a huge part of my life.  I'll note that I have no problems with the two other women who came in with MAs.  Instead it is the 3 of us who face this problem with our cohort/are not included.  And as I am not an international student as the other two are I think I see the social difference in how we are treated in a more clear way.  Sorry for any typos- I wrote this kind of quickly/just needed to get it down and into the world for feedback/thoughts/advice. 

Edited by loves2hike
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Making assumptions here on my own experience, but it almost sounds like they're intimidated. I had this actually during my two year MA. There was a group of people who started ignoring and shit-talking about the high-achievers in the program in the second year. They would openly ignore them and whenever there was a presentation just shoot on everything (even criticism that did make no sense). Yeah I had this stabbing (most dumb comment 'I don't believe in cultural differences in psychology' - like OK just go home plz), I had the literal ignoring when I was with certain people in a group and some of the 'nice' people were ntot there (like entering a classroom early), I had the envy when I was asked by profs to join their projects, and even the comments that prof. X and Y just liked me and gave my high grades because I was pretty (or something). Whatever. I'm succeeding far more in my career than they are atm, some have unpaid PhD positions, some have are doing PhDs on topics they dont even like. 

But don't think of them as being two years behind - schools vary strongly and so do learning curves in two years - everyone has their own speed and abilities. A MA doesn't necessarily put you ahead of others. Maybe they had things in undergrad you weren't exposed to or their undergrad degrees were more rigor (at least this is what I noticed when I started my MSc that my degree had prepared me a lot more thorough than others). I've had great conversations with some of the initial low achievers in my program (language barrier played a big role for this guy for his grades), got exposed to some cool theoretical work from someone else, and so on. I personally didn't have to put that much effort to get my M.Sc. so I personally also don't think that highly of it. Nor do I feel like I learned an awful lot during the last two years - that said I absorbed a lot during my bachelor and had a very research focused profile already. Sure my writing improved, but theoretically/stats-wise I didn't gain much except for what I read myself - but I could have done that during undergrad too. This was certainly different for some of my classmates who struggled a lot at the start. The title itself doesn't earn you respect, it's the comments you make and the things that you say and it's up to anyone whether they want to listen to it. This sort of thing has to be earned - and maybe you didn't show 'enough' yet to earn this respect. Deliver quality work that shows that you're ahead. Say things that make your profs and more advanced grad students turn heads. This is when others will listen. 

I also am not sure if my M.Sc. will help me in my PhD. I will face the same situation as you likely. However, I do think the theoretical frameworks used there may not always translate to the PhDs I want to get, and anyone could have read a book on those topics and know the same. Sure, I got more hands on experiences with research, but if someone helped out an awful lot in undergrad - I'm not sure how far ahead I'll be also since I'm mainly trained in group dynamics (meso-level) and am relatively inexperienced in macro-level psych or micro-level psych. So I'd happy to listen to anyone who can help me improve on this. And yeah, I at least I hope I don't need to go through the same horrible departmental politics as before although I can teach everyone a thing or two about how NOT to navigate through them. But I'm pretty sure my program would be different as at my current uni it's pretty uncommon to have undergrad assistants and so on. There's going to be a whole different dynamic and I'm not sure how much I can use from here at my new school. So Im not going to give advice I think - or that's my plan - maybe offer suggestions eveyr now and then, but especially be very receptive at first to others.

But the fact that they ignore all MA's may indicate that there's some insecurity/intimidation (although that could be reinforced by giving advice) I know it's annoying and frustrating. But just let them be. They'll learn the hard way that advice is valuable from anyone any time - regardless of the stage in their career. I've learned as much from people less advanced in my career than those further ahead. Even my supervisor said he learned some things from me (he's not that stats savy). Focus on you, invest in relationships with staff and the people who are supportive, be open to learn from anyone, and just be the best version of yourself in grad school. 



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Thanks for your insight.  I am certainly in that mindset of being the best me I can be/honing the relationships that matter.   I went in trying to keep my advice to myself/only offer up what I thought was needed when I saw people panicking and I wanted to try and say things that would ease that (so when first papers or presentations popped up for my office mate).  

I have, the whole time really, found a lot of my initial lessons in terms of how to present myself to faculty, how to prep for coursework...really all the negotiations of grad school to translate well from one program to the next- if that helps what you are musing about in terms of starting your new program.  I think once you learn how to prioritize, to find balance when possible that those are the kinds of skills you are forced to learn early on that are difficult for some people.  Even self care is something that in my first year of grad school I was terrible at.  So there is some tension in the simple fact that myself and other PhD students don't struggle with those things with them because we already went through that first year once before.  So, I think, that is where the real problem lies.  

I think there's some conflict on the part of my department to bring in both cohorts and put us in first year classes together when we have vastly different timelines for the department/are in essentially different programs with different handbooks/requirements.  I see that they want us to work together/have a sense of unity but the reality is that we are working on different things- them on masters, us on comps/phds.  I don't think that earns anyone more or less respect, but I have friends who did their PhD and it is a different set of work.  Its like how I knew an MA was going to be different than an honors thesis from undergrad.  I am friends with one of them and I learn from her all the time- we have great conversations.  I have many friends who never went to grad school- it isn't an elitist mindset on my end to clarify that-- I'm not just expecting respect because of my MA, but I do expect them to treat my past with as much respect as I afford theirs and to be cognizant of the differences between what we've done/accomplished.  They have insights from previous careers and types of people they've been around that shape how they experience our program and so do I and we can all learn from that.  Mutual respect is what I am struggling with the lack of.  I am being made to not be able to talk about my life before- being made to feel that under no circumstance is my MA acceptable to bring up because it makes them feel that they are being judged.  

To give an example because that's so abstract- I recently talked about how I have to just bulk write papers early on because I can't do step by step, I procrastinate.  If I write it early on, if I get it all on paper then I can edit it/it takes the stress out.  Me saying what I learned worked for me/because my anxiety around writing is weird and referring only to myself was taken as me telling them that the way they were going to write their finals was wrong/that I was telling them to do what I did.  I was not offering advice--they all went to undergrad, they know what works for them.  I didn't even mention my previous program when I told them that, so it is things like that- its frustrating tp me.

I just miss my last program.  We all always listened to each other and always had mutual respect regardless of stage in the program.  We always made it ok to talk about anything.  No one had problems like this and I don't know what it is about this program that makes the environment so different. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hey there,

I would have to agree with PsyGeek. Most of my friends from my M.A. program who are now in PhD programs are facing the same issue. My one friend attending BYU has told me that there is an air of competition throughout her cohort. She is 1/2 in the cohort who have an advanced degree and it seems as though the individuals who came straight from undergrad are out to compete with them. Whether this be in lecture settings or in the lab, someone always wants to show they are better. I believe this has to do with a need to prove themselves as they did not have the graduate experience. My advice would be to take it with a grain of salt. Understand where they are coming from (i.e., new educational setting, being uprooted) and keep it moving. You are there for yourself and shouldn't worry about others judgments. 

Stay strong!

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Totally missed your reply! 

First of all - I did not mean to say your elitist if I gave you that impression. However, I've been in a similar situation in my Master's (already) as we had people who obviously had a 'stronger' undergrad degree than others. You're not going to be able to 'cancel' the competitive vibe that is present in most programs, simply because it is other's insecurity that fuels this. No matter how nice you are, people who feel like they have to prove themselves will go on and compete. The fact that you may give them advice may even increase these feelings of insecurity. It can be very intimidating to be around someone who seemed to have already figured things out. Everyone who's early on in grad school feels insecure in their skills and how they size up to others. It's all things that can be expected :)

But also be mindful that someone may not have the idea that a PhD is not that different from a MA or so on. People have different ideas and expectations - it is up to them to figure out that its probably different. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

My guess is that they either see you as their direct peers so don't like anything that implies you are higher on the ladder, they're cutthroat and are ready to pull you down or may even see themselves as smarter because they didn't "need" to get a masters to be where they are. All are unproductive views. It's their loss ultimately. I'm sorry you have to put up with it. 

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