Day 4: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned
We all make mistakes, but sometimes those mistakes shape us as people. Was there a mistake you made in 2012 that taught you a major life lesson? What advice could you give to someone about not making the same mistake?
I must admit, initially this prompt was hard for me to answer. Not that I never make mistakes, but it was hard to pinpoint one that happened in 2012 that taught me a major life lesson.
After further thought and reflection, however, one thing does come to mind, but I will confess that it is a little nerdy. One mistake that I had to deal with had to do with my Ph.D. comprehensive exams.
Now if you are not in academia, essentially our comprehensive exams (or comps, as they are so lovingly called) take place after you have completed all of your coursework in your Ph.D. program. You take these huge exams to test you on everything you’ve learned, to assess whether you are ready to take the next step, go forward with your dissertation, and become a more independent scholar.
The first three weeks are made up of written exams. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, you need to orally defend your answers in front of a committee of faculty members. Talk about pressure, right?
Well the mistake that I made during this stressful time came when I had my oral defense. Suddenly, the night before, I had gotten sick. That being out of my control of course, is not my mistake. The mistake that I made was that I stayed up really late that night talking to a friend on the phone. Now I should have just told her that I needed to go to bed, that I wasn’t feeling well in the first place, and that I should rest before my huge oral defense. But I didn’t do any of those things, and what happened the next morning was that I felt much worse and in no shape to do any thinking, let alone enough to warrant having to defend three week’s worth of written comps answers.
The second mistake I made that day was deciding to go out to brunch with friends before the defense. Well the thought of doing that is all well and good, I can fuel up. But what was not helpful was that we were running a little late and behind, which just added to my anxiety because the whole time I was afraid that I was going to be late to my own defense. So then, adding anxiety to an already congested and sick grad student does not well make for an oral defense.
Well the good news is that I went in there, did the best that I could despite the circumstances, and still managed to pass, which is great, but for any other grad students out there I would advise them these things:
- Take good care of yourself during the comps process. Eat well, sleep well, and stay as healthy as possible.
- Get enough sleep the night before the oral defense.
- Don’t rush to campus the day of the oral defense – give yourself plenty of time to get there and get your materials ready.
No way would I go through the comps process again (and who would want to anyway?), but if I ever had to, I would make sure to take care of myself and do it right the second time around.