A Hidden War: Self-Sabotage and How Not to Let You Get the Best of You

This week’s post by Amy Dickersona Master’s of Education student who balances her academics with both teaching and motherhood. We’d like to thank Amy for her outstanding contribution this week.   

“Having a low opinion of yourself is not ‘modesty.’ It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not ‘egotism.’ It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success.”  – Bobbe Summer

Often, we have naysayers in our lives sending us negative messages and challenging whether we can achieve what we have embarked upon. I know that I have personally had criticisms tossed at me such as, “You can’t have it all; You’re going to be 80 when you’re done; Get done so you can join the real world.” Most of the time, these messages are easy to dismiss and let slide away; at other times, it is more difficult to shrug them off. When the latter is the case, negativity may join our own thoughts and feed any lingering doubts we might have, and it is much more difficult for us to dismiss negative thinking when it comes from inside. But why on Earth would we deliver critical messages to ourselves when we have enough negativity from outside?


For me, I have felt a fear of success, which is really a fear of failure and when I take steps toward my personal and professional goals. I sometimes feel like I am not good enough, smart enough, or somehow don’t fit in, similar to the Imposter Syndrome. If I am someday ‘successful’ (whatever that means), is that going to be it, will there be anywhere to go when I get there? As a budding researcher, I realize that there is never going to be a shortage of topics to research and write about, so success cannot be a ladder-type scenario; it is more like a spiral in nature, opening more and more doors as I work through my career. I think I get caught up in that it’s ‘warm, safe and comfortable’ feeling of the status quo and forget that life (to me) is about challenge, taking risks and growing. I sometimes need to remind myself that I am worthy and capable; that I just need to keep moving, keep growing despite what others, or even my own mind, say.

I honestly did not even realize I had been actively participating in my own destruction, and was left wondering why I didn’t finish that project or why that relationship ended. Then one day a very sage and deeply grounded friend looked at me and simply said, “It’s called self-sabotage.” I started to reflect upon where it came from and why I was doing it, what was it serving me – or was it at all?

In my newfound awareness, it was up to me to change that acquired thinking and move forward in a more positive way. This is not an easy endeavor, and when you encounter external negativity and others’ desires to maintain a status quo, it becomes much more difficult. I have learned, and am practicing, as I move through my 30s, that assertiveness is not equivalent to aggression, and that meeting my own needs is not the same as being selfish. I make plans and take risks and have chosen to be led by my own desire and abilities on a path of personal and professional growth.

When I started this journey, I attended the 3rd Annual International Summer Colloquium at Nipissing in July 2013. I spoke with one of the organizing professors (and my Theories of Learning professor in the fall) and he said something that has really resonated with me, and helps me out when people wonder to me why I am doing all of this. Dr. Ron Wideman looked at me and said, “Your MEd will open up doors that you don’t even know exist yet; the doors may not even exist yet.” So how can we define what it means to be successful if the outcome of our journey may not even exist? I think it is more important to focus on the process and not on the outcome. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”


More about self-sabotaging:

Self-Sabotaging: Why We Get in Our Own Way


8 Self-Sabotaging Lies to Stop Telling Yourself


Self-Sabotaging in Work or Relationships? Why?




Chronic Illness: An Exceptional Graduate Student Experience

This post was written by Catherine Giroux, a second year full-time M.Ed student based out of the North Bay campus. We’d like to thank Catherine for her heartfelt and honest contribution to our community. 

Special Needs

Original poem by Ruth Reardon (the word student is substituted for child in this revision)

Post-secondary education is a unique experience. For some students, the years spent at university can be affectionately called the best years of their lives. Major perks of university are making new friends, learning new things, and taking in all the new experiences associated with emerging adulthood.

In a way, graduate school is an extension of the university experience. You become incredibly engaged in your courses and immersed in your research. If you choose to pursue a thesis route, it essentially becomes your baby throughout the duration of your degree. Graduate school is not easy at the best of times; it presents new and difficult challenges, but even moreso when you have the challenge of a chronic illness.

First off, what do I mean when I discuss chronic illness? Is it like a recurring cold or flu that just won’t quit? Not exactly. Chronic illness has several definitions but here’s the one that I prefer:

Chronic illness is a medical condition, disease, or injury that has lasted more than three to six months and has caused an individual to significantly alter his or her day-to-day activities (Repetto, Horkey, Miney, Reiss, Saidi, Wolcott, Saldana, & Jaress, 2012).

Why is it difficult to be a student (especially a graduate student) with a chronic illness? Imagine every grad student has been hired to be a juggler. Your task is to keep all the balls in the air without dropping any (these represent your classes, readings, research, writing, and social expectations). Now imagine that you must keep juggling while more balls are being thrown at you. One is labelled chronic illness (you may have more than one depending on what you’ve been diagnosed with). You catch it and carry on. Out of nowhere, five more balls are added to your juggling attempts. These represent every specialist you see and how often you need to travel to see them (because of course they aren’t local). Throw in a couple balls to represent the medications you’re on, the potential daily procedures, and how much the potential side effects impact your ability to function normally. Now you’re looking at roughly 14 balls that you’ve got to keep juggling, without letting any of them drop. You’ve figured out a system and you’re making it work but you don’t know how much longer you can keep it up. Remember Zack in She’s All That? It’s a little bit like that!

Suddenly, you experience a flare up in your illness and you have to drop all the balls that you’re juggling. There’s no way that you can keep up with school and the social expectations that go along with school. The words leave of absence get thrown around but you don’t like them one bit; you’re too stubborn for that (which can be both a good and bad thing).

But you are resilient and determined to make it work. Slowly you recover and can pick up a few of the balls that you’re supposed to be juggling. You resolve to juggle fewer things this time around but you know that it won’t last. Eventually the cycle will repeat and you’ll be back to where you started. Nevertheless, you love what you’re doing in school and in life and the juggling is a small sacrifice that lets you have a normal experience, at least some of the time.

Living and studying with a chronic illness is about making choices. It might be fun to go to the pub with your friends after class but by choosing not to go home and go to bed at a reasonable time you might be sacrificing your ability to function tomorrow. There is an unbelievable amount of unpredictability with chronic illness. One day you might be feeling totally fine while the next, you can’t get out of bed or might even be in the hospital. We are fortunate that at Nipissing there is a great degree of flexibility because of the online courses. That flexibility allows for the frequent trips home for medical appointments and for schoolwork to even be completed from bed (or wherever else you might be). A word of advice though… make those deadlines and never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially if you’re feeling well.

Those of us with chronic illness look just like anybody else. We can often fake wellness so convincingly that others may not be able to tell just how much we are juggling at any given time. In some cases, this works to our advantage but in others it can be quite isolating because it feels like no one (peers, professors, etc.) truly understands how hard we work to be here.

So what helps?

Here are some strategies that I have found to help mitigate the stresses of chronic illness throughout my post-secondary experience:

  1. Introduce yourself to your professors early so that they are aware that chronic illness might influence your academic timeline. Only share as much with them as you are comfortable- it’s your health and wellness that is important.
  2. Register with Accessibility Services. They can help advocate for you and your needs (both learning and health).
  3. Find a network of friends (with or without similar chronic illnesses) who can support you when you need to vent and who will respect your limits and needs.
  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do the best that you can and allow for the necessary time to take care of yourself. That is what is really important, after all.
  5. Do things when you can. You never know what’s around the corner so prioritize and get as much done in advance as you can while you’re able.
  6. Have your good days! If you are feeling well and physically able, go enjoy some of your favourite activities (e.g., snowshoeing, skiing, swimming, knitting, etc.). This goes a long way to helping your emotional state of being and stress levels too.
  7. Keep track of your spoons (this isn’t as random as it sounds. Please refer to Christine Miserandino’s The Spoon Theory. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety to understand life with a chronic illness). Remember to keep one spoon in your back pocket for emergencies.
  8. It is absolutely possible to complete graduate school with a chronic illness. It is a matter of tuning in to your health, your capabilities, and your goals. It isn’t always easy but it is often fulfilling and worthwhile.

If you are a graduate student with a chronic illness (or are interested in the topic), please check out these blogs/forums!




Lessons from Parenthood: Graduate Studies in 2015

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. Melissa will be contributing an additional piece in the new year about preparing for the comprehensive exam at PhD level. We’d like to thank Melissa for her outstanding contribution to our community.

A new calendar year is upon us, and this prompts us to set goals and make New Year’s resolutions. Some people strive to eat healthier, exercise more often, or spend more time with loved ones. I have made personal resolutions in the past, however, this year I want to switch my attention to a few academic resolutions. My PhD coursework is now complete; my next goal is to prepare for the dreaded comprehensive exam. I want to finish the comprehensive exam in the spring of 2015 so my summer is open for submitting ethics. I will compose another post specifically focusing on the comprehensive exam later; for now, I will share with you what motherhood has taught me about graduate studies so far.  New Year

My baby boy is now 9 months old, and he is growing and changing so much each week. I wanted to share a few lessons he has taught me about graduate studies in no particular order:

  1. Sleep is important – this one seems like common sense, however I didn’t realize until after having a baby that I don’t function well on little to no sleep! Going to bed earlier has helped me become more productive in the morning as my little one doesn’t sleep in.
  2. Let passion guide you – children aren’t afraid to spend time doing what they enjoy. When choosing a topic to research it’s wise to choose something you are passionate about. When I wrote my MEd thesis, the topic was close to my heart and therefore my motivation to keep writing never wavered. For my dissertation, I have decided to write about motherhood and academia because I want to alter the negative discourse about combining both spheres.
  3. Don’t be afraid to play – my baby boy has taught me that it’s important to play and explore. I love watching him discover different rooms in our house, as everything is new and exciting. I hope to bring this same curiosity to my research and writing by asking questions and searching for multiple perspectives.
  4. Enjoy each moment – children live in the moment and are focused on the task at hand. I relish the time I spend with my baby boy and focus solely on him without any feelings of guilt. The same is true when he is napping and I switch gears to read and research for school. Each sphere is part of who I am, and the quality of time spent in each is more important than the quantity.
  5. Read often – I love reading for pleasure with my baby, he enjoys turning each page and laughs when I make different voices or silly sounds. Although reading peer reviewed literature is an important part of the research process, it’s nice to read a variety of material for a variety of reasons.
  6. Make yourself a priority – this one can be tricky especially when you become a parent. You automatically put your children before yourself. I am a better mother when I take time for myself and go for a walk, do yoga, or have a hot bath because when I return I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next adventure.
  7. Laugh and smile everyday – I am grateful to have such a smiley and happy baby because his laughter is contagious. I laugh and smile a lot more now. When I start to feel stressed or anxious about my lack of progress, having a positive attitude definitely helps.
  8. Changing a diaper is like changing your research topic – it happens frequently, it can be messy and it feels better afterwards! Enough said.
  9. When you fall, pick yourself up and keep trying – over the last month I have watched my baby fall many times as he learns about balance and gravity. I am amazed at how proficient he has become while standing on his own. When I have writers block or feel disappointed with the way something turned out, I look at how resilient and persistent my baby is. Academia by nature involves a lot of rejection, whether it is a conference proposal, a chapter in a book, or submitting an article for a journal. The important lesson is to learn from the experience, not take it personally, and keep trying.
  10. Children are our greatest teachers – if we kept the curiosity, creativity, imagination, innocence, and honesty from our childhood, the world would be a better place. Never forget that children have a lot to teach us, if we take the time to stop and listen.


Whether you have developed New Year’s resolutions or not, I wish you all the best in your studies this year. Enjoy everything 2015 has to offer!

Melissa Corrente

Work/school/life balance … is it possible?

When I started my first undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa, I had just two priorities: school and social life (and maybe not in that exact order).

And then I saw my loan statement from first year… Ouch! I decided that I desperately needed to work more than 10 hours a week to get through my studies without a massive pile of debt. So I got a second “part-time” job doing 8 and 12 hour clerical shifts in an Emergency Department (which quickly turned into a 24 to 36 hour a week commitment). I moved over to Intensive Care two years later, again as a “part-time” staff, where overtime was offered to me frequently… and that I accepted more than I likely should have.

I’m now onto my third degree (the Master’s of Ed), having earned a BA and BEd from the University of Ottawa, and I am still juggling both working and studying full-time.

I’m not exactly sure how I have survived the past six years, even less how I have maintained good academic standing, but here are some tips I might offer to you, fellow graduate student, so that you can be overworked and still have (some) time for yourself!


Get a planner. Or many. I have two planners and a wall-calendar in my kitchen. Being organized is essential!

Colour-code your planner! Each aspect of your life should be designated a colour. I use varying shades of green for my academics, blue for work, orange for social commitments, and red for appointments (although the orange doesn’t get used as much as I’d like). [Check out: http://www.maydesigns.com/ for awesome customizable planners!]

Track your productivity.

Especially in an online program, it is easy to become distracted by the never-ending pit that is the internet. RescueTime is an app that can be installed on your computer to log your productive vs. unproductive time. Settings are customizable, so for example if you are studying popular culture, YouTube can be placed on the “productive websites” list.


Schedule your weekly chores.

Make a date and set a time limit on grocery trips, laundry, vacuuming, etc. I personally love to clean as a form of procrastination because it feels productive! Be mindful of your time in every aspect of your daily routine.

Make use of your mornings!

Wake up an hour earlier than usual, and do a reading or post a response online. [I now work at a Montessori school, and my mind is much more alert before spending 9 hours surrounded by very excited 3 to 5 year olds…]

Set mid-way deadlines for major assignments.

This will (hopefully) help you stay on track and prevent procrastination. Having a critical peer can help with this as well (more on that later).

Give yourself time to unwind every day.

An hour of relaxation before bed has helped me get my mind off of assignments and has helped my sleeping patterns. Have a glass of wine and read a book for fun, play Sudoku, chat with loved ones, or stream a show on Netflix. You can ‘afford’ to do this if you spend an hour doing schoolwork in the morning!

Schedule a 2/3/4 hour block every week for YOU.

No work, no schoolwork, no chores, nothing. Spend time outdoors, hike, knit, paint, sing, do something that makes you happy!

Take this thing one day at a time! It can be overwhelming trying to balance school, work, and life. I don’t pretend for a minute that it is easy, and I commend anyone who is working while studying, at any level. I am very lucky to have my sister as a role model for time-management and work-school-life balance; I haven’t followed every footstep, but rather the general path she has cut through the brush and entangled roots of studying, and we have both succeeded. Find a balance that works for you; make use of your time and planning skills in ways you feel are most beneficial. Everyone will get through the challenges of studying in their own ways, but whatever the case, ask for help! Your significant other, friends, family, professors, peers, colleagues, even bosses can be great allies.

Keep your chin up, plan like mad, and then go with the flow.

This week’s blog post is written by Laura McRae, a first year Master of Education student. We’d like to thank Laura for her excellent contribution to our community and commend her for her ability to juggle a three-course load this term while working full-time.

Impostor Syndrome

What gives me the right to be here?


This is a question that I have asked myself MANY times since starting graduate school (and to be honest, even before that). I mean, seriously, at some point people will start to figure out that I don’t actually know what I’m doing. Why am I allowed to continue to go through the motions of this academia business when there are truly smart people all around me who are infinitely more productive and accomplished? I am, after all, just a fraud. I am only an impostor in this school.

If this thought cycle seems familiar, you too may be suffering from something called Impostor Syndrome. According to the American Psychological Association, although Impostor Syndrome isn’t found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is a very real form of intellectual self-doubt that is often accompanied by anxiety and depression (Weir, 2013). It is more common among people who are starting a new endeavour, which means that graduate students, like us, are particularly susceptible (Weir, 2013).

Before we continue exploring Impostor Syndrome, please note: it is also important to recognize that graduate school can be a really stressful time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, please reach out for help. Nipissing has counselling available to students who are struggling or even just need to talk. This is a free service and available online for students who are studying from a distance. 

Here’s the thing: each of us is researching something unique. Inevitably, we will become experts in our respective fields. So how do we overcome these feelings of being an impostor?

This is one idea:

But in all seriousness, overcoming impostor syndrome takes time. You need to challenge the negative thoughts and misconceptions that you have about your work and yourself. It might even be beneficial to seek help from someone (psychologist, etc.) who can help you identify cognitive distortions and engage in cognitive restructuring to correct them.

The University of Waterloo published a helpful online guide for Graduate Students regarding Impostor Syndrome. In it, they suggest various strategies that might help students overcome these feelings. These include:

Strategy Description
Break the silence Speak out about your feelings. Knowing there is a name for these feelings and that other people suffer from them can be very reassuring.
Separate feelings from fact Everyone feels stupid from time to time. Just because you feel it doesn’t mean you are.
Recognize when it’s normal to feel fraudulent When something is new to you, you may feel like you don’t fit in. These feelings are natural response for any novice.
Accentuate the positive Don’t obsess over everything. Do a great job when it is important, don’t persevere over routine tasks.
Develop a new response to failure and mistake making Learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t dwell on what has happened in the past.
Right the rules Don’t feel like you always need to know the correct answer. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to make a mistake or ask for help.
Develop a new script Rewrite your mental script from “I am an impostor” to “I may not know all the answers but I am smart enough to figure it out.”
Visualize success Instead of thinking of worst case scenarios, imagine yourself conducting an excellent presentation or answering questions with the correct reply.
Reward yourself Learn to pat yourself on the back when you deserve it. Don’t hide from validation!
Fake it ‘til you make it Take a chance and “wing it;” this is not a sign of ineptness, but rather a sign that you are intelligent and able to rise to a challenge.

Source: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/planning-courses/tips-teaching-assistants/impostor-phenomenon-and

As I move through this process of graduate school (and let me be the first to say that I am by no means an expert – I am just another student feeling my way through this academic venture, hoping to emerge on the other side relatively unscathed), I am continually learning. I am learning how to take chances, how to recognize my limits, and how to be proud of my accomplishments and abilities. Every once in a while, I catch myself reflecting and I think, “How cool is it that I am here right now, doing this?” I still have moments where I feel like a fraud or like I shouldn’t be here. In those moments, I remember a line from one of my favourite T.V. shows (the West Wing):

Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put another way, fake it ‘til you make it.

I think I can do that.

We are not alone in this. What are your experiences?

If you’d like to read more about Impostor Syndrome, feel free to check out these great links!

University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Impostor phenomenon and graduate students.

Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/planning-courses/tips-teaching-assistants/impostor-phenomenon-and

Weir, K. (2013). Feeling like a fraud. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

Zellner, A. (2011). Banishing impostor syndrome. Retrieved from: http://www.gradhacker.org/2011/09/02/banishing-impostor-syndrome/

Today’s blog post is courtesy of Catherine Giroux, a second year Master of Education student at Nipissing University. Huge thanks to Catherine for writing about this incredibly relevant issue that can affect so many students at the graduate level.


Which Route? Three Pathways to the Master of Education

“So are you doing thesis, major research paper, or research project and seminar route?”

The first time you hear this question as a grad student, you may have the urge to panic, run away, or play dead. Many graduate students enter the program unsure of their area of interest, let alone if they wish to pursue that area of interest down the long and winding road to a thesis.

Although initially intimidating, being able to choose your path to the Master’s is ultimately a sheep in wolf’s clothing; it may seem frightening at first, but the ability to customize your path to the MEd is designed to serve your long-term career plans. Are you interested in eventually pursuing a PhD? Or are you acquiring your Master’s to attain a new level in your chosen professional field, with no plans to further your academic studies? Knowing this will help you determine the best route for your lifestyle and goals.

Which door will it be? 1, 2, or 3?

In order to attain your Master of Education degree, you must complete the equivalent of 30 credits, and complete the two designated mandatory courses (Research Methods and Understanding Education). Each course is worth 3 credits. However, if you choose to pursue the thesis (worth 12 credits) you need only complete a total of 6 courses. If you choose to pursue the major research paper (or MRP, worth 6 credits) you will need to complete 8 courses. Choosing the research project and seminar route means taking a total of 10 courses, with a research component within the context of a directed course.

Thesis and MRP

Image credit: XKCD comics

Image credit: XKCD comics

If you have any plans or interest whatsoever in pursuing your doctorate down the road, it is strongly advised that you consider the thesis or major research paper (MRP) routes. Many doctoral programs will not even consider granting admission, let alone any kind of funding, without published work under your name. Alternately, they could ask you to submit a qualifying research paper as part of the application process.

PhD work is incredibly rigorous, and proving you’re already capable of focused research and advanced technical writing will demonstrate to prospective programs that you’re ready for the challenge (and hopefully deserving of some funding).

Even if you’re not 100% confident that you do want to consider PhD right now, contact your faculty advisor to discuss your options. You don’t necessarily need to know what you want to write about in advance, but odds are high that you can puzzle it out through consultation with a Nipissing mentor.

What’s the Difference between a Thesis and MRP?

On the surface, very little: were you to go to the library and pull both a thesis and MRP, aside from the different coloured bindings, you probably would have a hard time telling the difference. The different lies in the scope; a thesis is very specific and concentrated in nature, while an MRP can be broader. Pursuing these routes will require fulfilling all the necessary steps to proceed with research; this will include ethics submissions, research proposals, establishing contact with potential research participants, and a lengthy data collection/analysis process.


Research Project and Seminar Route

That being said, many students choose to pursue the research project and seminar route, which allows you to complete your degree through ten structured courses, one of which guides you through the research proposal process. For some, the Master’s is the only graduate degree they wish to pursue; an MEd often opens professional doors and enables you to pursue higher positions in your career. Depending on lifestyle, or limitations such as remote locations or time, courses provide the opportunity to become exposed to a wide range of professors, teaching styles, and information. Perhaps one course will speak to you and capture your attention and passion, develop a relationship with the professor, and deepen the work you’re submitting to be able to count towards the research project and seminar component of your degree.

For more information, see the degree requirements page of Nipissing’s Graduate Studies’ site, and look under option e.

Image credit: Bill Watterson

Image credit: Bill Watterson

Written by Marianne Vander Dussen; validated by Michelann Parr .

“This isn’t what I thought it’d be!” (Expectations vs Reality, and the Journey of Self-Discovery)

I remember being an undergraduate student taking a research course overseas. It was a research methods course, and we were paired with a faculty member from our host university in our host country. At the end of my time abroad, I remember my faculty supervisor turning to me and asking, “so, you’re coming back here for graduate school, right?”

That moment was pivotal, because previously I’d never even considered graduate studies! In fact, I’m quite certain that my initial reaction to her question was (badly) suppressed laughter. I was stopping after my undergraduate degree. No more school for me.

Little did I know then that I’d find myself on this crazy journey of self-discovery and redefinition that would ultimately result in an M.Ed in progress (with the crazy thought of pursuing doctoral work as well). When I reflect on where I have been and where I am now, I can weigh the expectations that I held for this process against my actual experiences. Graduate school is a process of self-discovery. Everything you thought you knew and understood about yourself, your work habits, and your working and personal relationships with others will be challenged. You will dance on the edge of your comfort zone until you feel ready to spread your wings and fly…but don’t be alarmed if you come tumbling down a few times as well. It is all a part of the process.

I came into the program bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was excited to start researching my topic and eager to use my research to make a difference in the world. I had visions of T.A.ing, research, travel, conferences, grants, and publications. Ambitious? Probably.Lifeplan

As I’ve gone through the process, I’ve begun to better identify what I expected and appropriately adjusted my expectations to match the reality of graduate school. Here are my top five examples:

Expectation 1: I need to know exactly what I will be researching before I enter the program.

REALITY: This is not the case here at Nipissing. Luckily, you don’t need to know your whole thesis outline before you apply to the program. You don’t even need to know what route you plan on choosing (thesis, MRP, or course). I changed my mind a few times before landing on a thesis topic that truly felt right for me.

Expectation: I will be free to study EXACTLY what I’m interested in and this will lead me to finding meaning in my life.

REALITY: This can be partially true. In graduate school, you spend a lot of time focusing on what interests you. I’ve also found that it is sometimes helpful to explore other topics of interest in your courses (not just your thesis or MRP) because sometimes your brain just needs a little bit of a break and there’s something to be said for being well-versed in a variety of subjects. As for finding meaning, in my journey I have discovered that there are so many different parts to me and all of these need attention. My family and friends, my participation in sports and activities, my love of music and strange historical/political events and trivia are all things that make me unique and are meaningful. My thesis is important but it’s just one part of the larger picture.

Expectation: I will easily make friends and we will do all sorts of grad-school stuff together. 

REALITY: Ha (insert laughter here). The friend-making process has been interesting to say the least. To be fair, I have made some very solid friendships in graduate school. I still did not realize just how isolating the whole experience would be though. In my undergraduate degrees, I almost took it for granted that friends were the people who were in your classes with you. Graduate school is a whole other experience; friendships have gone online. Even though I opted to do my Masters onsite in North Bay, it has been hard to meet the other graduate students who are here as well. It takes a concerted effort to get together but believe you me that effort is well worth it.

Expectation: I will be smart and confident in Grad School. I will totally know what I’m talking about. I will be attending conferences and I will be publishing!

REALITY: Again, this one isn’t actually untrue. You CAN do these things in Grad School. You really can. For me, this one has just been a particular struggle with Impostor Syndrome (The American Psychological Society likens it to feeling like a fraud. Read more here). That pretty much sums up my first year – keeping my head down and working hard, hoping against hope that Nipissing wouldn’t find out the major mistake they made in           accepting me because there’s absolutely no way I can be working at this academic level, after all. In my second year, I’m recognizing that Impostor Syndrome is a cognitive distortion (yay, psychology?) and that I actually do belong here and I can make a valuable contribution to my field. I can attend conferences and I can publish. I just wish I could have a little more faith in myself from the get-go. (editorial note – this blog will be posting on Impostor Syndrome again in the future!)

Expectation: The thesis defense is the scariest thing in the world.

REALITY: Seeing as how I haven’t gotten there yet, I can’t speak to the reality of this one. I have heard from former students here and at other institutions though that your thesis team will not send you in for your defense if they do not think that you’re absolutely ready. I find that reassuring. I’m not going to lie; I still expect it to be the scariest thing in the world.

Needless to say, I’m very grateful for that day back in my undergrad where my faculty supervisor planted the graduate studies seed in my mind. Never in a million years would I have pictured myself here doing this but I would not change it for anything. I’m learning how to frame my expectations in a way that they might actually line up with the reality of the situation and that certainly helps. It is still good to have expectations, in my opinion, because they help to excite and motivate. Excitement and motivation are necessary in graduate school; they are what help carry you through to the finish line.


Thanks to today’s blogger, for her thoughtful and honest contribution:

Catherine Giroux

November 4, 2014