Tips for Grads: Be proud.

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

Take a second and do something for me. Grab a piece of paper and writing utensil or pull up a blank document on your computer. We’re going to do a quick exercise in celebration of the end of the semester:

  • List three academic things you did this semester that you’re proud of. These don’t all have to be headliners, like “published research” or “was awarded x grant”. They can be simple, like, “I actually started using Zotero”, or “I finally figured out the most effective notetaking strategy for me”. Be sure to give yourself proper credit for the bigger things, but the things that don’t necessarily make it onto your CV are still things to be proud of.
  • List three non-academic things you did this semester that you’re proud of. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are more than our academic accomplishments, or that it is important to be just as proud of what we do outside of academia as of what we do within. For example, I am very proud that I actually kept up with my laundry this semester, that I got six new plants out of propagating my tradescantia zebrina, and that I finally perfected my favorite soup recipe. You may include things like “didn’t stress adopt a cat”, or “stress adopted a cat, and I love her”.
  • If you taught or mentored this semester, list three things that your students or a student did this semester that you’re proud of. Teaching and mentoring can be hard, and it is incredibly easy to be discouraged if you feel like you didn’t get through to or inspire every single student. But it’s valuable to remember that impacting the life of one student is not nothing. It is something big. Come up with three things that resulted from your teaching this semester that made you proud or happy, and if you’re feeling up to it, email the student or students involved and let them know you’re proud of them for whatever it was. Undergrads are in finals too, and they need a boost as much as we do!
  • List three things, academic or otherwise, that you didn’t get to do this semester. This one may sound like a huge bummer, but the fact that you didn’t do these things does not make you a failure, and it does not mean you won’t do them in the future. (Spoiler alert, I did not actually start using Zotero this semester, that one is on my list.) In the past, I found that making my “I’m proud of me for…” lists wasn’t all that effective because all I did was read between the lines to focus on what I didn’t do. Acknowledging that what we didn’t do does not undo what we did. Putting everything side by side paints a more honest picture and makes it easier to actually and truly be proud of yourself.

You might be saying, “Olivia, it is way too soon for this, classes are over but finals most certainly are not. I can’t stop now to look back; I have to push through to the end!” I understand that, but I’m asking you to consider giving this exercise a try because remembering how far you’ve come may give you the boost you need to finish strong! But, if you find you don’t have the time to do this now, it’s a good exercise to have in your back pocket for when you’re doubting yourself, no matter the time of year.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.