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Posts Tagged ‘confidence’

Do you ever see yourself as the fantasy graduate student? You know, the grad student who focuses intently on school, has it all together, has a job or some other activity outside of school, a robust personal life, and still finds time to volunteer for worthy causes on the side. The fantasy grad student sees obstacles as steps in the staircase to success. Each challenge raises the fantasy grad student higher and brings her/him closer to success.

The fantasy grad student indeed has a robust personal life, but only one that supports academic endeavors. Anything outside of the classroom that does not complement academic/professional achievement simply does not exist.

It’s easy to try to fit the fantasy grad student mold. I mean, isn’t that what we aspire to be? Isn’t that how we see our classmates? “Wow, they really have it all together” we say to ourselves.

But we are not fantasy grad students. None of us are.

We are real people. All of us are.

We have obstacles, pains, and even personal lives that are not always 100% conducive to academic/professional success. In fact, some of us have personal lives that are downright obstacles themselves, and every day that we make it to class, that we hand in an assignment however crappy, that we register for those next set of credits is a personal victory.

Despite outward appearances, many of us don’t have it all together. For some of us, this isn’t the first attempt at getting a grad degree. It’s the second.

Or the third.

Or more.

Yet we press on, grasping at the image of the fantasy grad student, hoping and believing that this semester will be the one when I get it right. This will be the semester that I submit my papers on time. This will be the semester that I’ll get the grades to justify my loans. This will be the semester that I don’t end up dropping a class. Or two.

For some of us, “this semester” is the one we say we’ll get through without the help from Mr. Jack Daniels or Ms. Mary Jane. “This semester” is the one where we finally don’t let problems with our boyfriend/girlfriend prevent us from focusing. “This semester” is the one where we’ll learn to sleep without having that same nightmare from whatever happened years ago. “This semester” is the one in which we’ll get it together.

But what do we do when “this semester” doesn’t work out like we hoped? What do we do when “this semester” feels a lot like last semester? And the semester before that? And the one before that?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that none of us – not one single person in any grad program in the universe – is a fantasy grad student. All of us have stories, stuff we’re going through, coming out of, or are about to go through. All of us have personal lives that can sometimes make our studies difficult. We’re real, whole, people. We’re more than the sum total of our GPA, our classes, our internships and jobs.

Whatever you may be going through now, just coming out of, or about to go through, just do your best. Never give up. Ask for help when you need it (it’s NOT a sign of weakness!), and breathe.

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Well, Internets, I graduated.

I realize this is an entirely anticlimactic post after months of a days-to-go count and whatnot, but I have to be honest with you: it turns out that May 20 was not exactly the Big Day or culmination I had exactly anticipated.

Many of my Milano peeps graduated in 2010 and moved on to bigger and better things. That fact was driven home when I arrived in the church basement to line up for our Recognition Ceremony and didn’t know many of the people there! It felt just like that terrible dream you had in junior high where you have no one to sit and eat lunch with. I wanted to sport a sign, you know, something along the lines of “Hey! I have friends too! They’re just…..” Well, working, or other things just as they should have been. Unlike that junior high dream, this was more of a strange realization than a scarring moment.

No, that happened later in the ceremony. While I have long joked about the difficulty many people have in pronouncing my last name correctly, so far I have been unscathed by any such mishaps at a Big Event. Though I’d written out a phonetic spelling and whispered it to the faculty member calling our names, wouldn’t you know, I heard “leen-ey” for “line” at the end of my last name and became Italian. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I just couldn’t let this go, not as the technical conclusion to Grad School: Part Deux which took three years and precipitated a move to New Jersey. Just, no. So I had to stop short and say “No, LINE, like on a graph” and proceeded to actually draw a line in midair with my finger.

(Look, how many times do people actually use each other’s last names? Not often, and that’s why this was all amusing and not upsetting. We’re all good.)

After that surreal bit of performance art, the evening continued. I shared a lovely dinner with good friends and kept watch for a Big Moment. Of course, it never came because the week after graduation I went right back to work at career services as I have most days this academic year. The ceremony did not truly mark the end of my time at Milano.

Next week, however, I will be finished, and move on to devote my time to my job search and to write. I am ready, but my days at this institution are truly numbered.

As we left the church after graduation, a friend showed me the pictures she’d taken and apologized for missing the moment when I shook everyone’s hands and finished my degree; you know, when my name was called.   I think the moment she caught is so much better:

I will be back (soon!) to post a couple of final thoughts, as well as share a bit about the job search process and how that is going. In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful summer!

Kristen

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Growing up there were always those kids who relished the last day of school. They counted every day, hour, second until the final ringing of the bell and the opportunity to loosen the tie and to get out the ‘monkey suit’ commonly known as our school uniform.  For me I knew that summer just meant a different schedule, but structure none the less. By college I regarded summer break as the opportunity to process and store away the previous semester before returning to the trough in the Fall. Part of the beauty of having 4 years to complete undergrad is if you fall of track you have time to get back on track … or at least a summer or two to find your way back.

This June as I finished up my first semester I found myself exhausted. Mostly mentally exhausted but by proxy a little bit physically exhausted.  For my first semester I expected more reading. I expected a scheduling that would be a challenge having hoofed it from 9 to 5 for the last few years.  I expected a learning curve for writing, and most of all I expected to be physically exhausted by the end of the semester.  What I definitely didn’t expect was the group process to kick my tail. It challenged me at times, it begged me to catch up at other times and most of all by the end of the semester I realized it had enriched what I learned through the course readings.  By June I had transformed into one of those kids counting off the days to the ‘official’ start of summer.  I spent a few weeks trying to get back some semblance of my pre-grad school schedule. I spent another few weeks decompressing….and boy was that fun.  But before I knew it I was hit with the panic.

For the full time (2 year program) student you have one summer to make sure you haven’t fallen off track, aren’t about to fall off track or to figure out what your track should be. Many, arguably most paid internships take place during the summer (corporations/organizations use paid internships geared towards grad students as a stop gap on projects during the summer months when salaried employees are often using vacation time). Besides the internship route summer makes an excellent time for figuring out post program fellowships.  By the time I decompressed and before I knew it…it was July and I had 35 days  left  to summer.

Of course by July most paid internships are gone. While I’ve squandered part of my summer and have lost some internship opportunities I’ve been plugging away with figuring out the post-school-fellowship-thing. Also to make sure I am on track to finish up strong in my program I have been reworking my resume, updating my interview skills, working references, looking for spring or (next) summer internship opportunities that I will be able to parlay into employment opportunities …. cause the job market is no joke.  While summer is about decompressing it is more about keeping focus for year 2 and staying on track to capitalize on the grad school experience.

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Laura and Tushar!  They are off somewhere celebrating right now, as they should be, and I am just posting to cap off this year.  I know the anxiety over our whereabouts since my last cryptic, exhausted missive has been keeping some of you bleaders up nights.  I know.  We’ve been a little busy.  Laura and Tushar graduated, and I had a marathon of my own last week as I went from a Quant final to wrapping loose ends to volunteering at their recognition ceremony, watching all of these fabulous beautiful people walk by and fantasizing about joining their ranks as an alum as soon as possible.

Quant went well, I am proud to say, but I will now also go “on the record” with this conclusion: I really wasn’t missing out on a great unfulfilled academic passion all those years when I did not delve into stats.  Some of us are meant to work in words (or music, or law, or medicine, or motion), and while I am very good with numbers, I don’t find them nearly as fascinating.  It is very important, however, to understand the statistical backdrop to your policy work, so these are great skills to have.  As for my Media Advocacy and Social Marketing course: I worked on another interesting client project, and have had quite a few prompts for thinking about my upcoming professional and academic work.  It’s likely no surprise that a blogger would enjoy thinking about messaging and issues concurrently–and I do.

Last week at the recognition ceremony I occasionally spotted someone and thought, “I remember speaking with them, when was it, hmm, oh, wait, it was at ORIENTATION two years ago.”  Very strange.  Being part time in the policy program has led me down a slightly different path than that of many of my colleagues, but I am very grateful to have worked with and enjoyed their company.  I am also looking forward to–there just isn’t a good enough way to put this–walking myself across that stage next May.  To that end, since I have been around Milano for these past two years I need a bit of a break too, and so this summer I will not be taking courses, but spending time working on my own writing, starting to investigate what I’m planning for my own PDR (final master’s project; we’ll discuss) next year, and reflecting on how the changes and growth of a very challenging and important year will impact What Happens Next professionally.  Reframing those goals is exciting, but nerve-wracking.  Since it’s summer, despite unemployment and student-dom, I’ll be having fun too.  I need to recharge my batteries, for the sake of that PDR, this blog, and my real desire to write some other kinds of material.

It’s been a difficult May for another reason: I know many of us at Milano and elsewhere are alternately furious, concerned, saddened, and wanting to do something about the ongoing ramifications of the oil spill in the Gulf.  I’m as stymied as anyone, and frustrated as this is the kind of situation testing the very concept of a belief in our capacity to make a difference.  However, I hope I am not wrong in seeing, I think, a certain horrible recognition in some new quarters that our (in my opinion) dysfunctional dependence on oil has to end.  In my more cynical moments I think it had to take such a tragedy to shake some out of indifference.  In my more hopeful ones, I think that I may have already met some people who are committed to help us find a better way to live without further destroying the planet, and our ranks are growing.  There is too much more to say about this–but ignoring it while writing from within our program (so to speak) would not be appropriate.

While I may pop in from time to time, as will Eulalia and our newly minted alumni, I just want to wish many of you congratulations, best wishes, my thanks for reading, and to others, welcome aboard!  We have plenty of archives for you to peruse–enjoy!

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This week we began to work on our client project in one of my classes. I knew coming into this course that we would have such a project for a client, and given my still-complicated feelings about how Policy Lab “worked” last spring (see, oh, many posts from Jan-July 09), I was a little anxious about embarking on this for reasons I could not quite identify.  Even reassured that this “wasn’t going to be Lab”, I did not know what to think.  All along, one personal challenge for me at Milano is being confident in my abilities and work while (particularly in this blog, or else what is the point?) being honest about what challenges me or gets in the way of really experiencing that confidence positively.  (Understand, confident does not have to mean “being an arrogant ass”.  There ARE distinctions, people!)

My anxiety about another group project was gone, or perhaps I should say, properly reconfigured, after we met our client as a class.  The thing about which I was most concerned: the amount of time and pace of the project requiring so much of it, will be working differently this time.  Given that, I delighted in realizing that since I’ve been using similar processes to those we’ll be using in the social marketing realm, I can best use this time to fine-tune how I engage with this kind of work, to determine how I can refine what happens as we’re working for a client.  It feels good.  So I am looking forward to the actual work involved with this, and hoping that it does help broaden my skills–which is a better feeling to have as we’re getting underway than vague dread.

Client work is challenging the first few times you do it because even though you’re sitting in a classroom or operating as a student, you have to suspend that reality and play the role of a professional consultant.  You won’t be given a syllabus listing your assignments and work requirements; you have much more agency and flexibility you must use in problem solving.  I’m sure this is precisely why such project work is a good thing to have in policy or management programs–it definitely shakes up your own self-defined role, scope of behavior, and notions of oneself as a “student”.  Those elements are what push you to grow personally as you learn how to perform as a consultant.  Even if, for now, it is mainly able to show only in program-based client projects, I have become so much more confident at handling projects with many moving parts thanks to Milano.  I know which elements I enjoy most; I know what kinds of strengths I can bring to the work, and what kinds of growth I still want to experience.

Or, at least, I know how to act like it.

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I’m surprised at my experience with Quantitative Methods (statistics) so far.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because I haven’t taken any math-based courses in a long time.  I remember being good at math, but not terribly interested, particularly once I honed in on a passion for theoretical reading and studying literature and history.   So while I didn’t feel a lot of anticipatory anxiety, I was curious to see how I would react to this kind of work after such a “break”.  Thusfar, it is going well, and I feel like I am mastering the necessary concepts.  I would still rather be doing other kinds of work–I didn’t honestly expect that to change–but I do not dread tackling my homework.  I also appreciate that my instructor decided, based on his past teaching experience, to spend time making sure that we are individually working problems rather than counting on someone else in a group to figure things out.  For me, group work is not a helpful way to really learn some types of material, and this is certainly one.

Meanwhile, in my other course I was thrilled to begin class reading and encounter some of my old theoretical favorites waiting (hence this post’s title, a geeky Foucauldian joke).  I know that reading theory about media, activism, or policy are often not the most popular of assignments at Milano (that could be a broadly incorrect generalization, so forgive me if I’m wrong) but for me it is always fascinating and a pleasure to delve into.  I also enjoy doing hands-on work, and I don’t see a dichotomy between theory/practice as irrevocable, but that’s also many years in Women’s Studies speaking, where “theory/praxis” considerations were embedded in nearly everything we were learning.   So my classwork is operating as I had hoped, with the media advocacy work a reward for completing Quant graphs.

And what of blogging?  Well, creative work is the reward for all of it!

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been a math whiz. In fact, when another woman in my Quantitative Methods class characterized her feelings about math and numbers as “terror,” I knew I could relate. I was bewildered by algebra and bored by my stat class in college. However three weeks into Quantitative Methods and I don’t hate it. This is a BIG step in the right direction for me. What I fnd most helpful is how my professor and the class  attempts to present statistical concepts in a framework that fits with the public service slant of my education. This ultimately answers the never-ending questions of, “When will I ever use this???” I’ve been able to incorporate some of what I’ve learned so far in my readings for other classes (mostly Education and International Development). I won’t say that I have been fully pulled to the math dark side, but I have overcome my “math terror.” (At least for now…) Phew!

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