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I feel like I wasted my first year of graduate school

I feel like I wasted my first year of graduate school
May 16, 2019 585 views

I know I have already mentioned in previous posts that I packed up my life and moved to Iowa to pursue my Master’s; however, last year at this time you would not have been able to tell me that this is the way that my life would have played out. 

In discussing graduate-level education, the buzz phrase "gap year" is often thrown around, and it refers to the year one may take off in between their undergraduate degree and their Master’s/PhD. Sometimes that gap year is intentional, and other times it is by accident. But in the end, it all works out for the better.

But what happens when your "gap year" happens while you are enrolled in graduate school? 

Let me explain. 

This time last year, I had begun my graduate school career in the College of Public Health to pursue my MPH; however, now I am in the College of Education pursuing my Master of Arts in Schools, Culture, & Society. These things are completely different, and I often hear people say, "Wow, that's a leap!"

The first week of classes has passed in my new department home and I love the classes and the content, and I actually understand it. The concepts and topics line up better with my research interest. There is one problem: I feel like I wasted my first year of graduate school and imposter syndrome has set in.

I do not think that I have imposter syndrome in the sense that I do not belong (even though sometimes I feel that is the case). I have imposter syndrome because I feel like I wasted a year of my graduate school career. Even though many of my classmates are older and we all have different paths that we have walked to get where we are now, I feel like mine makes the least amount of sense. I personally feel that it discredits my existence in the classroom. 

Now before you start lecturing me on "knowing your worth," understand that sh*t like this happens all the time in academia, and being a black female in academia, often times I feel out of place. I am out of place because these spaces were made for white people – but that's neither here nor there. I never said that this blog would be about how I had it all together, but what I did say was that this blog would be about my journey. 

With that being said, my journey right now has landed me here. 

I know that leaving the college of public health was the best decision I could have made, especially for my mental health. And even with the affirmation I have received in this new department, I somehow am still reconciling that sometimes "home" is not where you started, but where you finish and even where you make it. 

I feel as though I do not belong because I didn't pick this program first! I feel as though they will find out that originally I was trying to date the superstar but instead I have pursued the humble dude. Someone said it best: "No one wants to be the second date to the prom." That is very true, no one wants to be the second choice. But I guess my real problem is: What if the second choice is the best choice?

Every day as I prepare to go to campus for classes this semester, I turn to my boyfriend and tell him how I feel unprepared and out of place. I feel nervous because I am afraid. I will struggle like I did in my first year of graduate school. Even though I know that my new home is a place of no judgment, I cannot dispel the judgment I have placed on myself.

I feel like I took a gap year, even though I really technically did not because I was taking classes (some of which I enjoyed), the first full year, and I feel like the insecurity is written all over my face. Even though I have completed all (read as majority) of the readings for each class and have taken extensive notes.

I really wish this post had some silver lining theme and I could tell you the lessons that I have learned from it all, but right now I cannot. Maybe I will be able to tell you something positive in a couple of weeks or at the end of the semester. But right now, I just needed to write about this process. Write about how even when you have a sense of belonging and comfort, you can still have a sense of being an imposter in your own home.

I know that I should treat this imposter syndrome as something that is coming into my home and stealing my sh*t instead of welcoming it with open arms. 

*breathes a sigh of relief* 

I feel a little better now that I got that off my chest. Maybe I will be able to focus on this whole book I have to finish before 5 pm.


Joy Woods (@smileitsjoy) is a PhD candidate at Moody College of Communication, University of Texas. This story was published on August 29, 2017, on Joy’s blog, withoutaspace (available here), and has been republished her with her permission.

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Your Research. Your Life. Your Story.

A magnetic community of researchers bound by their stories