More than an Identity Crisis

“Are you a student?”

This question always makes me pause. As a “part-time” graduate student, I don’t hold my main identity in being a student. I am first and foremost a “full-time” engineer, and school is something to tackle in my free-time. 

It leaves me with a major identity crisis of who I am in academia. As I explain my educational status, I’m quick to point out, “Oh, but I’m a non-thesis student!”, lest someone thinks too highly of my academic standing. 

“I’m only there for classes.”

“I don’t do research.” 

“I only do one or two classes a semester. It’s not like I’m a full-time student.”

I’m always quick to point out to my fellow students how I’m the poser, the faker, the imposter. I ride their coat-tails, and my degree will never be equal to a research-based Master’s. I’m 70% through a combined Master’s degree and certificate, and I fail to even see myself as a “Graduate Student.”


Do you see a trend here? If you’ve been involved with SWE for any amount of time, you may have heard of Imposter Syndrom. Previous GradSWE Blogs have covered the topic, and you can find a course on it in SWE Advance (linked here). I’ll leave it to my SWE colleagues to explain the issue in-depth, but it comes down to believing you are an imposter who will eventually be discovered as a fraud.

Like a Ph.D. student believing her research is not worthy of her peers, my own experience as a part-time Master’s student makes me believe I’m not as deserving of a degree as my fellow students.

I know that isn’t true. 

And I hope all students out there understand that graduate school is always something to be proud of doing.  These are some techniques I’ve used to fight off my own Imposter Syndrom traits.

Plugging into Campus Life

I’ll admit it: this is the hardest thing for a part-time student to do, and it’s often impossible for online students.  However, I’ve found that just by hanging around campus, I feel like more of a “student” again. Many larger schools have recreation centers that can be visited after work, even replacing a part-timer’s usual gym. Schools may offer evening activities, low-cost health clinics, counseling services, or other resources to all students. 

My first few years on campus, I rarely strayed from the path between my car and my class. It took me 3.5 years to learn my way around campus; it’s only about a 15-minute walk square! Now I’m much prouder to say I’m a student there.

At least I can finally find my way to the library.

Built a Support Network

John Donne published one of my favorite poems in 1624, “No Man is an Island”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

My favorite line is not that classic “No man is an island”, but rather “if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” On our darkest days, any student can feel like a clod of dirt, insignificant on a continent-worth of much finer ground. No matter who we are in academia, leaving before our time (like dying in the poem) makes the system that much less whole. 

Since “No man is an island,” no one can accomplish any goal alone. We all need people in our lives to support us, and we benefit from supporting others. When I connect with my classmates, I feel more like I belong. It can be hard for full-time and part-time students to meet, but we usually figured out a mutual time. Everyone is busy in their own way, so don’t shy away from trying to connect with someone with a different schedule.

Don’t Compare. Contrast. 

When I make the negative comments from the opening of this post, it’s because I’m comparing myself to people with different goals than myself. I’m not in a career track that requires a research background. 

Research-heavy students often end up in academia or research jobs, or they at least may aspire for that path.  While it is generalizing, the average engineer in a fabrication shop, automotive plant, factory, etc. doesn’t necessarily need to have a research background. And that is okay. 

Rather than compare, contrast. What can a non-thesis student learn from a thesis student? A non-researcher from someone in love with their lab? Share your story and learn the stories of others. 

Parting Words

When I started writing this post, I was writing about what I thought was an “identity crisis.” I felt I was just disconnected in a system that assumes a full-time commitment. I didn’t realize my “identity crisis” was actually hidden imposter syndrome.

If you start hearing your mind tell you the same things, you aren’t alone. No matter where we may be on our journey, from certificate seeker to post-doc, we are all worthy of being “Graduate Students.”

May your learnings be infinite, your research plentiful, and your degrees someday be complete!

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Success and Happiness

What does it mean to be successful? That is a question every person must answer for themselves. Is it publishing 10 papers a year, and surpassing the most cited researcher in your field? Is it going from post-doc to PI to department head? Maybe it’s doing the most good that your career can do, or influencing even just one person’s life for the better.

Defining success is a personal decision that may evolve over time. Every person is unique, and as such, no two pathways through life (or even grad school) are the same. While it is important to seek input and insights from those you trust and aspire to follow, and those who care about you, ultimately YOU are the only person who can define what success is for your career and your life.

Success is a long term goal. It isn’t just what makes you happy in the moment, or what you ‘feel like’ doing. It is that achievement you can look back on years later and be proud that you endured and grew from the experience, something you accomplish that no one else can because they don’t have your unique set of skills and passions.

Success and happiness are linked. They are both dictated by your values. My dad used to always say that if you choose a job you enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life. He also used to say that if you do what you love, the money will follow. After working a number of years, I do agree with his first statement. Choose something that is meaningful for you and that you enjoy, and you will likely be successful and perhaps even regard your job as more of a hobby, something you do simply BECAUSE you enjoy it. There is much to be said for enjoying your work: several studies have shown that employees want meaningful work, that they’re willing to be paid less to do work they enjoy rather than more for a job they don’t like, and that there is also an average income at which people prefer life-balance perks such as additional vacation days or flexibility to an increased salary (the study reported this was around $75k – much less than one might expect!). Dad’s second statement also has some truth to it, though depending on your chosen field you may need to add a little business acumen. The reason is that if you do what you love, you will likely work harder at it, become an expert, and enjoy sharing it with others. There is always a hunt for the best and brightest in any niche, and usually a business to sustain them.

So don’t be discouraged if you are less than thrilled with the path that someone else laid out for you in grad school. This is your story to write, and only you can define what you enjoy and find worthwhile. You may become the next household name in research in 20 years, or you may become the greatest professor your students have ever had. Or maybe, you lead others through STEM and influence their success, or play an important role in bringing useful medications or products to market. Everyone has their place, and every career has its trade-offs. Choose what matters to you, and enjoy your career and life!

 

Tag: work life balance

Practice your research talk and get feedback! Submit Abstract for the WE Local Collegiate Competition

Do you want to refine your ability to explain your research to other engineers? Want a chance to present your research at a SWE conference? Participate in WE Local Collegiate Competition. WE Local is now accepting online abstract submissions for the WE Local Collegiate Competition. Submit your abstract before the deadline of Friday, November 2, 2018. Questions about the WE Local Collegiate Competition can be directed to welocal@swe.org.

The WE Local Collegiate Competition is a great way to share your research with a broad technical audience who can offer support, insight, and constructive feedback. Finalists will be selected from the submitted abstracts for the collegiate competition and are required to compete onsite at a WE Local conference in all categories: poster, lightning talk, and face-to-face judging! Graduate students are highly encouraged to submit abstracts summarizing their graduate research, co-ops/internships or external research experience to the Graduate Collegiate Competition. This allows for students to learn and gain insight on their research, and to receive live responses and encouragement from judges. The judges will consist of professional members from academia, industry, and government within the STEM field.

As a Finalists of the WE Local Collegiate Competition, you will receive a $250 travel stipend and complimentary collegiate premier registration to compete in the technical poster competition at the conference site to which you applied.  You will also be recognized during the WE Achieve awards ceremony where three finalists from each category will be awarded first, second, and third place. Do you want to know more about what WE Local competition offers you as a Graduate Student? Read what one of the former WE Local Finalists had to say about it!

Don’t forget to enter the WE Local Collegiate Competition! Submit your abstract before the deadline of Friday, November 2, 2018.

Becoming a Pro at Self-Promotion

“Look at the tower I built!”  “Wanna hear me count to 50?”  “Watch me ride my bike!”

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If you’ve spent time around kids, you know that they are often uninhibited in sharing about their recent accomplishments and abilities. Maybe you’ve babysat or have nieces, nephews or kids of your own, but you know about the persistent and passionate pleas of a child to pay attention to them!

But somewhere along the way, many of us were told, overtly or subliminally, that bragging and being ostentatious is not ladylike. This culture that encourages female modesty fosters a workplace where women are less likely to talk about their achievements than men.

Advocating for oneself in the academy and industry is key for demonstrating leadership skills and therefore achieving upward advancement, but for many of us, it is also risky. When we go against the norm of humility and brag about our accomplishments, we may be perceived as too strong, pushy, and less likeable, even by other women. For introverts and anxious types it can be especially uncomfortable to bring attention to oneself. It’s not always easy, but tasteful self-promotion is something we should all practice.

Here are some tips to become a pro at self-promotion!

  1. Be proud of your successes! You worked hard for them and the world deserves to celebrate with you.
  2. Reclassify the task. Terms like “bragging” can carry a negative connotation. Consider your self-promotion “networking” or “increasing visibility.” It’s just like any other leadership skill!
  3. Be yourself. Find ways to authentically promote yourself in ways that make sense for your personality and your industry.
  4. If not your own, then promote the work of others. Women are generally more comfortable with advocating for others than for themselves and maybe with some practice you’ll feel empowered to promote yourself. Alternatively, create safe spaces for self-promotion in your lab or community!

Ready to give it a shot? Check out Carolyn’s post about developing a personal website, nominate yourself to be considered for a GradSWE Spotlight or WE Local award and be sure to share with us how you are promoting your amazing accomplishments in the comments or on social media (@SWE_grad)!

 

Meet our WE18 Sponsors: Praxair

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We are pleased to announce Praxair is sponsoring the Graduate Student Reception (Friday, October 19th at 5:00 pm) and the Rapid Fire research presentation competition at WE18. Through this sponsorship, Praxair and GradSWE members can connect for networking, professional development, and career opportunities. Praxair is interested in students like you!

Praxair is a leading industrial gas company in North and South America and one of the largest worldwide. With market capitalization of approximately $40 billion and 2017 sales of $11 billion, the company employs over 26,000 people globally and has been named to the Dow Jones® World Sustainability Index for 15 consecutive years. Praxair produces, sells and distributes atmospheric, process and specialty gases, and high-performance surface coatings. Our products, services and technologies are making our planet more productive by bringing efficiency and environmental benefits to a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, chemicals, food and beverage, electronics, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, primary metals and many others.

Check out their career areas and/or career opportunities for more information. If you’d like, feel free to explore their social media on LinkedIn and Instagram!

Meet our WE18 Sponsors: Autodesk

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We are pleased to announce Autodesk is sponsoring the Graduate Student Reception at WE18 (Friday, October 19th at 5:00 pm). Through this sponsorship, Autodesk and GradSWE members can connect for networking, professional development, and career opportunities. Autodesk is interested in students like you! They hire interns in many business functions including Engineering, Design, and Business so feel free to come prepared with questions you may have about their program!

Whether you are attending the conference or not, be sure to check out their Careers Page for more information. Learn about their career opportunities for graduating students.

Check out their LinkedIn and even their Instagram!

Meet our We17 Sponsors: Praxair

Meet our We17 Sponsors: Praxair

Praxair_logo

We are pleased to announce Praxair is sponsoring the Rapid Fire research presentation competition at We17. Through this sponsorship, Praxair and GradSWE members can connect for networking, professional development, and career opportunities. Praxair is interested in students like you!

Whether you are attending conference or not, be sure to check out their Careers Page for more information. Learn about their career areas, culture, and leadership development program.

They have both full-time opportunities and internships. Praxair is looking for talented engineers like our GradSWE members!

Polish your resume and practice your elevator pitch, We17 is all about making new connections.