I remember the moment when I lost faith in myself in grad school. It was a moment of my life that I don’t want to go back to. I felt like rug was pulled out from under my feet. It took a decade, and lot of talking with my wife and therapist, to recover from the trauma it caused in my life.
I felt like I did everything “right”, but I could not get a job. I went to the best schools in Canada and worked on topics that mattered. I did engineering and then a business degree – those are suppose to be high demand fields, right?
I worked with great people. They were people with degrees behind their names, and people that went to great schools. They are some of the smartest people that I ever met. They also cared – they cared about me and cared about doing good work.
But, coming to terms with not succeeding after 6 years of working at something was one of the strangest moments of my life. It gave me perspective.
(If you are dealing with feeling like this, please read this blog post on mental health in academia).
I did not have my crap together after all. I doubted myself. I felt broken.
I still remember walking into school. My only goal was to put one step in front of the other.
At that moment, my plan was to take a factory job making $15 an hour if the research career did not work out on January 1st. Thankfully, I lived in a blue-collar town, and I had a neighbor offered me a job at the factory he worked at.
With a 2 year old parent and a spouse that was sick and tired of me saying “let’s just wait and see,” taking that job was the best thing I could do. I felt trapped – industry jobs were considered taboo.
You have no idea how many jobs I applied too. I even devised a programmable letter and resume to make sure that each application was perfectly tailored to each position.
My PhD Career Changed.
Luckily, my current academic position came in at the end of October 2011. I remember the coffee shop where I heard the news. I can still taste the coffee, smells, and quiet chatter when I got the offer.
I looked around. Nobody else knew what I knew. I sat there sitting at my laptop in disbelief. That offer letter can’t be real.
I remember walking outside to call my wife. It was cold that day. A crisp day in the fall. After all, she was the one that told me to apply to this job. It was in another country. It was in a place that I never visited and it just seemed foreign to me.
Now, I Am Truly Blessed To Have A Research Job As A Management Professor
I am fortunate to be here. My colleagues are amazing. That’s enough about that.
But, for those grad students and researchers who are still on the market or starting their academic journey, I know where a lot of you are coming from. I can’t tell you how painful it was, and how stressful it was to deal with the academic career. Research careers are challenging and uncertain.
As the first person in my family to go to university, much less go to graduate school, I know exactly the struggles that you are going through.
Know that this R3ciprocity project is my acknowledgment of how privileged we are. Also, know that I won’t forget how ‘that’ feels. I will do everything I can to not only make academia and research careers easier for you, but also to tell you the truth.
We can’t let other people lose their faith in themselves. I remember talking to another person in academia, and them disclosing to me that it makes them uncomfortable to be around graduate students who have lost faith. It was like the land of the walking dead.
If You Are In Academia, You Need To Make Positive Changes In Your Life.
Don’t be like that. Don’t be crushed. Before you lose your spirit, get some help, talk to someone, or if you have to, quit.
When I was a PhD student, I felt stuck and alone. We need to have open talks about feeling alone in grad school.
First off, you are never stuck. You do have the strength to make positive changes in your life. If it’s not working out for you, you can easily stop and go in a different direction. We need to normalize that you are not a failure to go into industry.
More importantly, invest in making yourself happy again. Everyday make little steps towards becoming a healthier you. You are never a failure. Don’t let some silly degree or career path make you feel less than.
If you are like me, you have to keep believing in yourself. Don’t give up.
You got this.
Check out these blog posts if you need more resources as a new grad school or a professor.