honestly, honesty – pitching grad school

In a different title idea i wrote honestly instead of honesty, then stared at the words for a squidge too long… and my brain started hurting. The semester hasn’t started yet but I’m preparing for quals (I’m taking them a little later than is usual) and I’m feeling pretty fried… Anyways! My advisor has asked us to contact the prospective new PhD students that she’s found in the applications this year, and I do love to talk. But sometimes I wonder if I talk too much —

In college I was a tour guide, and I’d usually give the disclaimer: “I love this school, and I’ll tell you all about why, but it’s got a lot of problems that I think need to be fixed and I’ll tell you about those, too. I can find you the facts and figures if you want more than what I provide, but my focus will be on my personal experience and stories and experiences that my peers have shared with me.” Students at my school, as with so many across the nation, struggled with mental health in an environment of high expectation and constant stress; we were also in a dense urban area, which makes you run on a higher volume energy and sense input all the time. I think I gave a good tour, and people told me so, but sometimes I’d wonder what the admissions office would say if they came along (they never did). But my parents were the one paying my school, and the school’s reputation comes from its students – I felt that I fulfilled my job duties above and beyond without giving a spotless Stepford-Student perspective (also parents appreciated my honesty).

Now, though, my advisor pays my tuition and my stipend. I don’t speak badly of her, because I think she is a great advisor and that I’m lucky to have her. But often the students in my group work together and teach each other, so my advisor has more of a managing role. So, I also speak honestly to the prospective student on my frustration with the town I’m in, my struggles in my first year to catch up academically, my disapproval of behavior and “jokes” that I find inappropriate among my group, my department and in the larger professional community. I say that someone else’s experience may be very different from mine and I recommend that the student talk to my colleagues as well, but I often hang up the phone feeling a little regretful. I feel energized and happy, because talking about how far behind I felt when I began reminds me of how far I’ve come in the past year and how much I’ve fought (against others and also against my own internalized sneaky doubts) to establish myself in this town and in this group. But I also wonder if I’ve shared too much, if I need to prune back my cheerful and too-open, too-trusting and over-sharing blabbering in preparation for the professional world, or in protection against those who might think nothing of using my honesty against me. Does anyone out there have thoughts on honesty, honestly?

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