As I mentioned in my New Year's post, we hope to launch several new series here at the Cocoon in 2017. The first series, our Grad School Survival Guide, has already begun, and I hope you agree that it is off to a great start! That series, once again, aims to provide new and continuing philosophy grad students with information and advice to flourish in their programs. But, of course, advice on flourishing is at most half of the story. In my experience, for one reason or another many graduate students end up struggling or running into unexpected roadblocks nonetheless. I sure did. Although grad school started splendidly for me, as time went on I had trouble publishing and coming up with a viable dissertation topic, lost my confidence, got sidetracked by hobbies, and came close to never finishing my degree. And I've known more than a few other grad students--at many different programs--who ran into similar or worse difficulties.
One of the things that I have experienced--both firsthand and secondhand--is that sometimes grad students feel like they must keep their struggles to themselves, suffering them in silence. Some of the reasons why they might do so are obvious. First, grad students can fear the judgment of students or faculty in their program if they share their struggles. In some cases these worries might be well-founded, in other cases not (for my part, when I finally marshalled up the courage to ask faculty in my program for help, most of them were more than willing to help - and the help I received in my view ended up making all the difference!). But, whatever the case, in my experience many grad students don't feel comfortable sharing their struggles, particularly when they involve personal issues. Second, some of us are just not very good at reaching out to others for help. As a shy, introverted person I have never been good at approaching other people or opening up to them, particularly when I feel vulnerable. Although these are tendencies I have worked very hard at overcoming, I know all too well how strong they can be, and how they can lead a person to feel like they need to solve their own problems rather than ask for much-needed help.
Anyway, because in my experience a good number of grad students struggle in silence, I thought it might be helpful to open up a new series: a Grad School Support Group in which current grad students chime in anonymously (and respecting grad program anonymity) in the comments section with struggles they are currently facing--whether it is coursework, publishing, getting along with faculty or dissertation advisors, departmental climate, etc. My hope is that we might then open up independent threads to discuss the issue(s) different commenters raise, and that in doing so the Cocoon might provide two helpful services. First, and most obviously, my hope is that the series might enable us to help each other as a community--providing struggling grad students with information, tips, and advice that might enable them to grapple effectively with and overcome whatever obstacles they are facing. Secondly, my hope is that the series might also serve to inform the discipline on the kinds of obstacles and struggles grad students face today. As this recent thread at Daily Nous indicates, there appear to be a lot of things that grad students wish they could tell their grad faculty but feel like they cannot. Perhaps this new series can shed greater light on grad students' experience, raising awareness among grad programs, faculty, and the discipline more broadly about problems grad students face and how to improve the grad school experience.
These, at any rate, are my rationale and hopes for the series. I hope the series proves viable and helpful - but the first step is to see if there are grad students out there willing to share their struggles. I understand if there is some trepidation about sharing one's struggles and asking for advice (even anonymously), as some might fear the problems they describe might lead others to infer their identity. My hope, however, is that if grad student commenters share their struggles in sufficiently general terms (viz. 'I am having trouble publishing' or 'I am having trouble getting along with my advisor'), then both the commenter's anonymity and the anonymity of the program, faculty, etc. will also be safeguarded. So, then, in launching the series with this current post, this is my request and suggestion. If you are a grad student facing struggles of some sort or other that you are willing to share and ask for tips in dealing with, in a manner that you feel sufficiently protects your identity--and which also respects the anonymity of others--please do comment below. The Cocoon, as always, is here to help in whatever way we can! :)