I passed my quals! HuzZAH! Back to the grind.
In the days leading up to the test, I was burnt out of studying. There was still plenty to cover and review, but I felt like what I’d learned I’d learned, what I’d reviewed I’d reviewed and it was time to be done with it. In the weeks before, though, I had a particular day on which I didn’t panic, per se, but I felt a little hopeless.
“I studied with these guys who were just way ahead of me in understanding differential equations. I felt so useless, and I know I’m supposed to know it but I don’t, I haven’t used it in my research, I’ve gotten by without it so far,” I told my roommate, morose and beaten down.
She was a former PhD student in physics and looked at me. “You know, when I was studying for my quantum mathematics exam a few years back, I kept beating myself up and just reminding myself how could I not know this? Why aren’t I getting it? And then I stopped and thought, hey, I thought I had a growth-oriented mindset. What is this nonsense? And I started looking up methods for addressing math and test anxiety.”
She told me about an experiment she found from the University of Colorado in which one group physics students was told to write for fifteen minutes about their most important values and another group was told to write about their least important values and how these values could be important to other people. The experiment found that the standard gender performance gap in a typical basic physics test was preserved in
the control group, but closed entirely by the women in the group in which students wrote about their values. Scores were especially improved for women who subscribed to the false stereotype that men are better than women at math and science.
While neither my roommate nor I believe in that stereotype, we believe regardless that perspective and your personal mental environment can make a big difference in your aims and achievement. We also believe in data and statistics and research. So I spent a few minutes, every few days when I felt my morale getting low, and I wrote about my goals, what drew me to grad school (You’re in grad school to learn and if you avoid studying now, it isn’t like it’ll get better by itself), and essentially pep-wrote myself the things I tell my lady researcher friends when they tell me, “I’m just not as good as James at math.” What?! That’s crap! If you’re here in grad school, you’ve earned it twice over and, if you want it, do the work and this test will already be in your pocket. Ultimately, who will we ever always have to rely on other than ourselves? If you don’t tell yourself that you can and should, who can?