UW Graduate School

February 2, 2018

When You’re Feeling Doubts About Graduate School

Feeling self-doubt about whether or not you belong in graduate school is actually a normal experience for many Master’s and doctoral Students. These doubts and anxieties can arise for any number of reasons. Below are just a few that we’ve heard about from your peers, and maybe they will resonate with you as well. Included are tips and strategies on how to move through these feelings.

Feeling like an imposter. Ever feel like you’re not intelligent enough to be in graduate school: like somehow your peers or department will “find out that you’re just not cut out” to be at the UW? Also known as imposter syndrome, these nagging, negative feelings and self-talk are actually quite common for most graduate students, and can make you question your talents, strengths, and resilience. Remember that you do belong in graduate school because you are passionate about your research project, enhancing your professional development, or wanting to make a positive contribution to your communities by earning a graduate degree.

Accessing resources. Your life is busy: balancing your degree requirements, a job or two, and family or community responsibilities is quite a task even when all those areas of your life are important to you. During the thick of it all, anxiety can creep up and make you feel like you aren’t capable of fulfilling your goals and commitments. It’s in those moments, that you can pause and ask yourself: Am I getting my needs met? Maybe there’s a campus or community resource you need to access to make sure you are getting what you need on an individual level, whether that be your campus recreation center, alone or quiet time with a good book or a walk, quality time with friends off campus, mental health support, or even a good meal.

Feeling exhausted. We know you’re all working hard as graduate students, and hard work can get the best of us. Given the rigors of graduate school, this can lead to feelings of exhaustion or possibly even burnout. Again, take pause. Can you ask for an extension on a project? Do you need to take an academic leave of absence? Even better, is there someone you can check in with to help you make a plan for getting much-needed rest, along with ways to move forward after your break? The length of your break is particular to you and your circumstances. Recognizing that you need some time away doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means you are invested in your success as a whole person.

Remembering your purpose. It’s good to reflect back on why you decided to be a graduate student. Once you are in graduate school, your reasons may actually change over time, especially as you continue to explore how your degree may get you where you want to be in the future. Sometimes your interests and needs really do change, and the path you are on may no longer serve you. This is also a normal experience for many graduate students, and you can talk about it with people you trust on your mentoring team, with close friends, or you can schedule an appointment to talk with us at Core Programs. Talking it over with people you trust can help make sure that your judgment isn’t being clouded by any of the reasons we discussed above. And making an informed decision to take what you have learned thus far, and bringing it into your next phase of life, can be just what you need to do.

We hope you find these strategies useful and let us know what has worked for you!

Best Regards,

Core Programs Team
#UWGradSuccess