As graduate students, we are constantly being evaluated, from papers to presentations to clinical work to theses and dissertations. In addition, we are being evaluated against very high standards. That is just the nature of the beast that is graduate school. I know for me, at times, it can feel like being under a microscope and that my every action is being secretly observed and assessed. While I know on a cognitive level that I am in fact not under surveillance 24-7, it sure can feel that way. With all the evaluations and benchmarks that we as graduate students have successfully accomplish (i.e., hoops to jump through), it is hard to not internalize a constant sense of self-monitoring, perfectionism, ruminating, and a high level of self-criticism – I know that I personally struggle with all of these.
When thinking about the impact of being constantly evaluated, two major themes come up for me, both of which I would put under the umbrella of what I have named the Separation of Self and Work. The first idea here is that we are not what we do, and that what we do is not the summation of who we are. While this is easy to say, it is much more difficult to practice. I am sure most graduate students can think of a time when they got an evaluation that was particularly difficult to take, whether it be a grade on a paper, a clinical sample, or interpersonal feedback. I would be lying if I said that I had never been personally hurt by feedback that I have received while in graduate school.
For me, being a graduate student and clinician-in-training is such a salient part of who I am at this point in my development that I at times struggle with separating feedback about what I do as opposed to feedback about who I am – and it would be my guess that if I struggle with this, others do as well. And to be perfectly frank, how can one not take certain feedback personally to some level? I know for me, when I put my name on something – whether it be a paper, an assignment, or psychological report – I put a part of myself into it. My time, my thoughts, my feelings, and my ever-so-developing clinical judgment – all go into everything that I do.
The second point I would like to make on the topic is the importance of allowing oneself the room for growth, which at times does include growing pains. From my experience, many graduate students – yours truly included – can be their biggest critic and worst enemy when it comes to their professional development. However, I am going to let you all in on a little secret: just because you are going to get a PhD, doesn't mean that you have to be perfect. Trust me, you still get to remain human during and after graduate student, which gives you the right to make mistakes and the opportunity to grow from them.
It is also important to remember that faculty and supervisors do not expect you to be at the same level of development throughout your process as they would expect of a professional in the field. If you think about it, it really makes sense; if we were capable of performing at the same level post-graduation as we did when we first started, there would be no reason for graduate school.
If any of you are wondering how I deal with the separation of self and work, I will give you most common response: balance. When I receive feedback, I practice allowing it to sink it, and incorporating the feedback into future work. At the same time, I practice having a non-judgmental approach to feedback – and yes that means not judging myself as well. Most importantly, whenever I receive feedback – positive or constructive – I practice accepting the feedback with kindness for the gift that it is.