3 Lessons I've Learned in Grad School (So Far)

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This year, I began the second year of my doctoral program and my fourth official year of graduate school. Though I've learned and absorbed an extensive amount of content, the most meaningful insights I've gleaned are not those packaged inside a book. Rather, as I have waded through the mountains of pages to read, classes to attend and papers to write, what I've found most life-altering is this: the person I am today is infinitely different than the person who walked into the classroom that first day. This past year has changed the very woman I am. Below you'll find the top three lessons I've learned in grad school (so far)...

1. There is so much I don't know.

I think this truth is felt deeper and deeper the more a person reads, communicates with others, and steps out of themselves to learn. The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. This might be why it is so hard to get doctoral students to choose just one topic for their research. We realize along the way that out there lie unending possibilities and we just can't wait to explore them all.

2. I am not the smartest person in the building, in the room, or even sitting at my table.

Many people in graduate school talk about imposter syndrome - that feeling we must have somehow swindled our way into this program, because we surely don't belong. We certainly aren't smart enough or experienced enough. Everyone else seems to be more prepared, to know more about the topic at hand, to be extensively well-read. And we pass our days hoping we won't be found out, hoping no one will discover that the University surely made a mistake allowing us to walk these hallowed halls.

I have come to realize the crazy intelligence of those who walk by my side. Over the course of our lives, many of us in a doctoral program have invariably been one of the smartest people in the room, or the most hard-working, or perhaps the most driven. What's interesting when you get to this level of education is everyone else is the exact same way.

You are no longer at the head of the pack. You may be somewhere in the middle, or you might even be dragging along at the end just hoping to find your footing.

This brings us back to point number one - there is so much more to learn. And even more critical, it's ok to admit you don't know, that you haven't read a specific author's work or had a particular experience. It's ok to be vulnerable and it's necessary to be humble.

3. Changing who you are is scary, but so so beautiful.

Education is transformative. As a teacher, I believe this can be true - in the right conditions, with effective educators. What I never expected, though, was for one short year to alter the way I think so drastically. When we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking and doing and being, it's truly amazing what can happen.

When we see ourselves as becoming instead of as being, when we view our life as a journey of constant growth instead of as a quest to arrive at a certain place, we will learn so much more along the way.

Here's the thing: you are not alone. You are not alone in feeling like you don't belong, you are not alone in feeling like you aren't smart enough or strong enough or organized enough to make it through this process. In any transformative experience, abundant change will take place. Let it. Let yourself change in difficult and beautiful ways. Allow your thinking to shift.

Release your grip on who you were and revel in who you are becoming.

Abby Weiland