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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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 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.

Meet our We17 Sponsors: Autodesk

Meet our We17 Sponsors: Autodesk

Autodesk Logo

We are pleased to announce Autodesk is sponsoring the Graduate Student Reception at We17 (Friday, October 27 at 5:00). Through this sponsorship, Autodesk and GradSWE members can connect for networking, professional development, and career opportunities. Autodesk 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 opportunities for graduating students.

Check out their LinkedIn and even their Instagram!

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

Transferable Skills and the Pursuit of PhD

The entrepreneurship bug is alive and well today. We hear about starts as pragmatic as Uber to frivolous games that waste hours on end. It seems that today’s economic environment is ripe for innovative ideas and disruptive technology. It’s all very exciting to hear about technology licensed out of graduate labs and someone else’s uncle’s friend who’s app was purchased for millions of dollars. For the academic, however, it begs the question:

Does graduate school provide any transferable skills that would be valueable in the marketplace?

Of course we can endlessly debate the utility (or lack thereof) of an advanced degree but the reality is that there are more MS and PhDs graduating every year than academia can employ. There are numerous articles that spell doom and gloom for the budding scientist about to enter the job market. Theoretically, we scientists have it better than English majors, yet the prospects are still not so optimistic for STEM majors.  Whether we choose to explore a non-traditonal career, a career in industry or start our own venture, it’s clear that academia cannot absorb us all.

With this is mind, I came across an interesting site this week where the blogger helps wayward academics find their way to starting their own education/teaching/consulting business. It may be worthwhile to explore the option of starting your own venture, either as a source of additional income or full time. The Scholarpreneur took and interesting view of the academic background and gave it a validity that I rarely see. Learn more about the site and their offerings here.