Thursday, December 17, 2009

Diary of Mad Grad Student: Epic Long Post of Sorrow

I've just been through the worst semester of my life. It's technically the last semester of course work I have as a grad student. I still have one class left to take for my Med-Ren certificate, but all the English Masters coursework is done. My final were papers were less then stellar, my professors not happy with my performance, and my grades were reflective. A, B-, C, C. I'm really disappointed in myself and been pretty upset. I realized something through this experience, I largely measure myself--no define my self worth through the perceptions of others--namely my mother and my professors. I'm one of the biggest hypocrites when it comes to talking about self-confidence; I have so many anxieties that just multiplied and exploded this semester. Rationally in my mind, I'm have it all explained everything to my self to where I understand I'm not perfect and shouldn't care about the opinions of others. However, I've just always lived trying to satisfy the high expectations of others and in turn, setting unreasonably high expectations for myself. I don't like, much less believe in, making excuses. I've learned to accept the consequences of my actions--whether negative or positive. Nevertheless, I do feel there is a difference between excuses and explanations. All I seek to do is explain things how they happened. It doesn't make me any less of a person. The week before school started my mom's husband committed suicide. So that threw things way out of whack for at least the first month and a half. I was taking four classes and working a crappy retail job at the same time. Having pulled out of last semester 4 Bs while working and in school, I thought I would be okay. It wasn't; I was expecting three not so demanding courses and one really intense course; pretty much all of my courses ended up being so demanding to the point where I had to sacrifice quality work in one class for the other. By the time I realized I was struggling, it was way past the drop date; also, I had invested too much time and work in all the classes. I've been burned out since the last spring semester, and the effect only got worse. I became really depressed. Depression manifested itself in apathy, oversleeping, extreme anxiety, unfocusedness and more than one breakdown. I felt isolated from my friends and family. I wanted nothing more than to go home to SC or NC or even Paducah--where many of my old friends are at. 

Of course, everything snowballed during finals week, and I just couldn't handle the pressure. I turned in sloppy work I wasn't proud of, nor did I care at the time. I just wanted to be done and have my sanity and life back. I think I really would have been okay, had not one of my professors (whose class I got a C in) simply ripped my final paper apart more than anything else she had all semester. She was really pissed at the fact my paper was not only underdeveloped, but that I didn't meet even the minimum page limit. Then she wrote an extra note in which she repeated the same words she pulled me into her office for the day I turned in my paper. She said she didn't understand why I chose not to turn in all the weekly responses. I said nothing originally because I didn't want to make it seem I was making excuses. I'm really bothered by the statement because I didn't "choose" not to turn in the responses (except one); the very first one I forgot to write a response--I read the text, but forgot the written response portion of the assignment (it happens!). The second one was because I had gotten confused when she said, "We'll meet again in two weeks" before leaving to go to a conference. I took that to mean class would not meet for two weeks, not see you from this week (when we have class) and then next week. On top of that, I was sick for that week. She let me turn in some of the work for partial credit since I had a doctor's note. The last response I didn't turn in was the only one I actually choose not to; I was getting frustrated with the writing, I didn't have much of anything written by the time I had to leave for class, so I did not turn it in. The was no reason to tell my professor any of this because she almost never accepts late work and nor would she care about any explanation. So I'm really baffled at why she would make such a statement saying she didn't understand why I chose not to turn in work. Why is there a need to understand? Would it have mattered? No. Furthermore, only one was a conscious decision. However, I accepted the consequences of my actions and mistakes; I made no excuses. So why bring the subject up?! 

My other professor, who I very much admire and is also my culminating project director, hasn't said a word yet. I'm absolutely terrified of what he has to say. The final paper I turned is supposed to be what my CP will be based on. I told him from the start it would need heavy revision, and I would do so next semester when it would be the only thing I had to focus on. He praised my midterm paper, giving it an A; I've had in class three times. I plan on sending an email simply stating I know my paper was a mess and not up to the standards he has or that I have for myself. He has a reputation for being a hard ass. Plus, there's a couple not nice rumors that he once told a class of grad students "If this is your best work, get the fuck out of grad school!" and almost failed a girl's thesis, even though she previously had a good working relationship with him. We were supposed to meet sometime soon to discuss my prospectus, but having gotten a C in the class (the only time I've ever gotten lower than a B in his class), I've pretty much chickend out. I don't have much time anyways, since I'll be all day in Shelbyville today, then packing and flying out to SC Friday. My defense mechanism is avoidance; I don't like conflict or confrontations. In the email, I'm going to ask him to send his criticisms via email. That way, I can make Dustin read it and soften the blow. My biggest fear is he's going to tell me to "get the fuck out of grad school" and refuse to direct my CP. The rational part of me says, he can't do that, he already agreed. Plus, that would make him a complete jerk and bad teacher, neither of which I believe him to be. I'm hoping, I'm overly paranoid and once I own up to my bad work with the solemn promise of extreme revision, he won't eat me alive. 

Finally, probably my biggest critic is my mother. She told me, I expect you to get all As in grad school because that is your field. She never understood that English was more than just "reading and writing." It's incomprehensible there's no such thing as a right or wrong answer--wrong or misinterpretation yes, but completely wrong long as you can argue for it. I've spent my entire life trying to live up to her expectations and nothing is ever enough. I'm always compared to others (which is ironic because growing up she told me never to compare myself to other people) and her, when she was in grad school (for engineering no less). It always comes down to, "I don't understand why you can't make straight As. I hope you can find a job. I just wish you were good at math and could do something more practical. Are you sure you don't want to go into education?" Dustin told me, "If you define your self worth entirely through your mom, I'm surprised you have any self worth at all." There's no pleasing her, and I'm never good enough and always viewed as a disappointment and/or failure.

But, I survived. This is the only semester I have made lower than a B in any class; it will be the last. I will pull myself up. I will learn from my mistakes. I will not make excuses. I will try harder not to define myself by the judgments of other people made in ignorance (unintentional or willful). I will work hard to redeem myself. I will write an excellent and successful culminating project. I will finish graduate school with a Masters degree in English and a certificate in Medieval-Renaissance Studies. I will graduate in May with a cumulative GPA of a little over 3.0. I will perform all these tasks to the BEST of my ability.


  1. *hugs* I loves my Lan and I think she is the most awesome person ever! I'm sorry the semester was so stressful. Take the break to relax, enjoy yourself, and regroup. Just remember: ONE MORE SEMESTER!

  2. I wish we were closer. That way I could have been their for you when you needed me. It sucks being so far away from your best friend. It also sucks that I have no time to go up there and see you since I work like crazy and on the weekends I am dead to the world and just want to sleep. Things would be so much easier if we were just closer. :(

    I know you will do better next semester. You can do anything you put your mind too.

    I agree with Dustin on his statement about your mom. You mom is a great woman and she has been through a lot, but sometimes she can go overboard on the critizim. I remember being terrified of her when she would help us with our algebra homework in middle school. "You understand right?!" yes, yes we do...

    I love you. You are my BEST friend and don't forget you can call me whenever you need me.

  3. I'm proud of you anyway, I know it had to be hard work. It can get so overwhelming and all that reading and writing ;) can get you down. That fact that you are even pursuing this is awesome!

    I'm the same way with critics. I work hard more because I don't want to disappoint people, when it comes to things I'm not passionate about!!

    Love you, babe!