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Jerry Green

1) Sounds like wisdom runs in your family.
2) Glad to hear I'm not the only one with a motivational poster on the wall. Mine's right above my monitor on my desk. Its a bit less positive than yours, though: it says 'Good enough is not good enough'. For whatever reason, shame and fear tends to work better for me than positivity does (and also I don't like tautologies :)).


This post feels like my own autobiography. I even took up running during my PhD and have been addicted to it ever since. Going for that sub 3:00:00 marathon currently.
Me? Ten years in philosophy. Nothing but failure. But coming to terms with my own psychological insecurities didn't help me with the one thing I actually needed: getting a fucking job.
Do you think for most of us in this position, that it actually gets better? I've been on the non-academic job market for over a year. Let me re-phrase that: I've been unemployed for over a year. 150 job non-academic applications. 150 unique and finely-tuned cover letters and resumes. And nothing. Coming to terms with having imposter-syndrome (and blah blah blah) wasn't the issue. Being in an economy where I would be unemployed for over a year and actually being an imposer to having a livable wage, that was the real issue.

Pendaran Roberts

Graduate school and the academic job market, especially philosophy, are extremely hard and competitive. There is never such a thing as 'good enough'. It is inevitable that such a work environment breads anxiety and depression. Really, for a lot of people, academia is not psychologically healthy. Even after all these years, I still struggle to put negative thoughts in check. I even remember talking to tenured professors who confessed to struggling with anxiety and depression.

Your experiences are not unique Stacey, as you of course now know.

Stacey Goguen

@pbj, ya, that's the other side to all of this: the structural stuff that makes it more likely that graduate school is going to be a psychological gauntlet and economic hardship for a lot of us, personal gumption and resilience be damned.

"Do you think for most of us in this position, that it actually gets better?" I honestly don't know. (Can't tell if that was meant as a rhetorical question, anyway.)

Being unemployed is often its own special kind of hell. I hope something comes through for you.

And I wish there was a clear way to incentivize departments to offer more support to recent graduates on the non-academic job market. They often seem to just pat people on the back and say, "good luck, nice knowing you."

Larry Cesare

For what it's worth from one who earned a Masters and a Doctorate in clinical psychology many years ago, spent seven years as an invited core faculty member in the doctoral program from which I graduated and went on to parent three children who each eventually went to grad school in various fields, I offer the following observations:

Studenthood, especially at the graduate level, is inherently unsettling because it requires continual exposure to one's own areas of ignorance. While in that role, it can feel as though one's life and one's very self are being gradually torn down. Ironically, this is a cumulative byproduct of extended learning. Think of ignorance as large dark wall and knowledge as a light shining on it. As the area of the light grows larger, more it comes into contact with the vast darkness. In other words, the more you know, the more you know you don't know.

The problem with academe, especially grad programs, is that they represent a culture that has is very good at challenging students to face their areas of ignorance, but not at helping students to develop confidence in their unique knowledge, skills and professional self-esteem. Look at the way the departmental pecking orders play out with ego wars among faculty recruiting unwitting grad students as their pawns and the primary mode of attack being one of convincing others how much smarter they are than anyone else.

At some point, grad students needs to recognize that this game is rigged against them and that to remain in such a toxic, borderline abusive environment eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns. Sooner or later, despite faculty pressure to the contrary, one must leave the nest and face the real world with the confidence that comes from believing that, while one may not possess all information there is to possess, one now has the capacity for formulating the right questions and finding the right answers. And while boldly escaping from the Chinese finger trap that is academe, freed students must remain committed to lifelong learning and be comfortable with the phrase "I don't know.”

At that point, the student will have grown beyond where their professors remain stuck.


I think it's really sad that rampant physical or mental illness or the worsening of these illnesses is supposed to be "normal" just because one is in graduate school. While I'm sure it's fair to ask students to go to therapy or take medication, I also wonder whether we should restructure our programs such that these very serious things are prevented from ever entering students' experiences. It's difficult for me to believe that these illnesses are simply the byproducts of exposing oneself to one's own ignorance. That's not how it seemed to me, at least!

Stacey Goguen

I think you're right Paula that it doesn't have to be this way.

And speaking back to pbj's comment, a lot of these problems with grad students needing an extreme amount of psychological resilience to get through unscathed could be non-issues if structural aspects of our programs and academic life were different.

Henry Lara

Stacey, thanks for the awesome post. Please keep them coming.


"What I learned was that, at the bottom of my struggles with fear, stress, and cruelty towards myself, was that when I sat down to “do philosophy,” my self-esteem and sense of self-worth felt like they were on the line. And every time I struggled or failed, it felt like my self-worth was being eroded."

This perfectly describes how the past year has been for me. I've been seriously considering quitting for a month now and reading this post was extremely encouraging. Looking forward to reading some more of your posts as I struggle through. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

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