I got my research proposal back today.
It was covered in marks.
I pulled it out of the envelope and didn’t even want to look at it, really. Still, it didn’t seem to bad so I mustered up the courage and scanned the first page on my way to class.
“This part needs to be reformulated.”
“This is theoretically very problematic.”
“Not necessarily related.”
…oookay. Little crushing. Maybe the second page will be better?…
“I can’t see how this type of questionnaire will be particularly useful.”
Third time’s the charm?…
“How will you ‘prove’ and define the criteria for this?”
“Is it even possible to do this via a questionnaire?”
Ha. You wish.
By the time I reached the classroom I could feel the tears knocking at the door of my calm expression, but I couldn’t miss class. Not because I was sad. That would be childish.
So I sat my butt in the chair and proceeded to be mentally checked out for the rest of the seminar.
I felt terrible. I had thought that my proposal was interesting, that the design was solid if a little lax on the details. It seemed that my whole world had come crashing down.
And all throughout class, I couldn’t help but think that maybe, pursuing academia might not be for me after all. I couldn’t keep those thoughts swirling around in my head, so I took out a pen and a sheet of paper and starting writing down everything I was thinking.
so what’s the point then
you have no research
yeah it’s “sooo important”
except who cares
no wonder Stanford rejected you you have no ideas
Except for me, my broken Self-EsteeMeter meant that the disappointment at my lackluster proposal didn’t just stop there, but started to bleed into my other fears, anxieties and life worries:
I’m not good at anything…
can’t write fiction
can’t write good code
can’t come up with a good research proposal
why am i alive…
And then, I started to imagine that my whole life was over because this one proposal wasn’t good enough which meant that I wouldn’t be good enough for graduate school, and caused me to look for ways out.
But I encountered two problems.
1. I can’t go home. I’ll need a car/income, and I don’t have those. These student loans aren’t going to pay themselves.
2. If I get another apartment here in Japan, I’ll have the lease for a year or two, so I’ll need to keep this scholarship so that I can stay there BUT I WON’T BE ABLE TO KEEP THIS SCHOLARSHIP BECAUSE MY PROPOSAL WAS SHIT AND I’M A FAILURE.
Conclusion: I’m stuck here and my life is over.
Yeah, one mediocre proposal led me through all of that mental muck to reach the conclusion that my life is officially over.
This sort of thought process happens on almost a daily basis for me, and it’s really horrible to deal with. I’ve started noticing that if given a fight-or-flight option I will most definitely choose flight (see ya!). This goes for my career (“I’ll never be good at this so better just quit while I’m behind”), my relationship (“He doesn’t love me anyway so I’ll just break up with him first”), my friendships (“Well if she’d rather hang out with her then I won’t be friends with her anymore”) – you name it, I’ve thought it. And it’s really frustrating, because usually the outcome is never nearly as bad as I make it out to seem in my head.
Take this instance, for example.
After class, my professor looked at me and asked if I was alright. I said no.
“No?!” she said, shocked, as if she were surprised I had answered her honestly.
I quite pointedly looked down at my marked-up paper and back at her. “I don’t know how I’m going to present on this tomorrow.” I was supposed to give a 20 minute presentation about my research in her other class, and after today I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to tomorrow, let alone bullshit my way through a presentation.
I don’t know what I was afraid she was going to say; but I wasn’t expecting her to pull out a chair, set her bag down and lean over my paper.
“Well, let’s see.”
And we looked over it. We talked about what parts of the proposal were weak, and where I was making broad assumptions. I pulled out some of the research I had been trying to emulate, and she suggested that it might not be appropriate for what I was really trying to find out. After about fifteen minutes of discussion, we finally settled on what I should present in class tomorrow, and what I should focus on moving forward with my research.
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
But it was to me. Just minutes before that encounter I had honestly thought about going home and giving my scholarship back. I was sure that I wasn’t cut out for a PhD, and I was already thinking of back up plans to my back up plans for ditching ASAP.
But my professor sat me down and went over everything, and we were able to find something that worked. My academic reputation was saved (for the moment at least), and at least for now the career portion of my life is still on track.
Afterwards, my professor apologized for my feeling bad.
“It wasn’t meant to be damning,” she said about the blue marks all over my paper.
And I realize that now; a lot of the things she mentioned were just the rules of good science. And when writing this post I had to actively search and look for the things that had ruffled my feathers so much in the first place. But in the moment, it all seemed so hopeless to me. Even my professor noticed.
“You looked really depressed today,” she’d told me.
Yeah, I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s a blessing and a curse.