Normalizing the Stress of Grad School: Guest Post
Today’s blog post features guest blogger and Canadian speech therapist, Gabrielle Charron, who I had the pleasure of becoming virtual friends with this past summer! Gab and I chat a lot over on Instagram, and we started to realize that we share a lot in common (despite her Type A in contrast with my Type B, lol). We decided to put together an Instagram Live recently, specifically for SLP students. We discuss a lot of common struggles in our undergrad and grad studies, and want to help normalize this for current and future students. Gabrielle is here as a guest blogger today to share that conversation, so that you can refer back to our tips and struggles whenever you’re needing that extra boost of, “IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE PERFECT.”
Normalize the stress of grad school...
I want to be a speech-language pathologist (SLP) but… Will I be accepted in the program? Will my grades be high enough? How many times will I have to apply? I GOT ACCEPTED! Why is this so difficult? Is all this stress worth it? I worked so hard and only got a B-… will I ever be good enough?
Have you ever asked yourself these questions? …You aren’t alone.
For years, I wanted to become an SLP, but thought that it was unachievable. Rumours of needing a >90% average to get accepted invaded my thoughts. I didn’t have that 90% average, but I kept going, I persevered. It was NOT easy…but I made it – ACCEPTED! Once in grad school I thought the stress might alleviate, since the hard part was “getting in!"
Looking back at my experience, it was a bumpy road – to say the least. I had a lot of ups and downs (more downs to be honest), but today, sitting here up high on my mountaintop of personal achievements, I can tell you that the late nights, the tears (+++), the doubt, and the STRESS...were all absolutely worth it.
After meeting so many amazing SLPs worldwide thanks to Instagram, I thought, I couldn’t be the only person who experienced this in grad school! Sure enough, I wasn’t. I found Abby (@the.type.b.slp) with whom I (@superhearoslp) was able to bond with over our similar experiences. We hosted an IG LIVE that gathered SLP2b’s and SLPs who have shared this experience and allowed us to NORMALIZE this awful feeling of “never being good enough”.
Although Instagram is amazing at helping us connect and “meet” SLPs, the uncomfortable topics, such as the stress and challenges of grad school, don’t always make the headlines. SO let’s chat about it – What made grad school hard and what made it better?
What makes it hard?
- Getting “in”
- Pressure and Expectations
- Imposter Syndrome
- Assessment Methods
- Being “knocked down” again and again
- HUGE Scope of practice to learn in 2 years
Everyone talks about applying to grad school… what an uphill battle. You need >90% average, over 100hrs of related experience, and 3 letters of recommendation, etc. Yet, what you need most is perseverance, resilience and determination. It’s not easy. You might apply to several schools or get waitlisted. Your application might get denied and you will have to face the challenge of rejection. Personally, I had to change my path. I had always planned to stay close to home, however, the world had a different plan for me. I moved across the world – from Canada to Australia to accomplish my dream: change the plan, not the goal!
Undergrad’s unnecessary pressures teach us that we need to stand out as academic overachievers in order to have the opportunity to get into grad school and this creates unrealistic expectations.
Once you’re IN grad school, you and your new classmates might still have that tendency to compete with each other. The competitive nature that carried you through undergrad and pushed you towards grad school might remain, but grad school should be more of a team effort.
That lingering competitiveness can cause extra stress and anxiety because people try not to show their “weaknesses”… this is definitely not needed. Try and shift that competition into collaboration. Taking the high road might give you the motivation you need. There is SO MUCH you can learn from your classmates – I learn from my coworkers everyday!
Pressure and Expectations
It’s no surprise that many SLPs are “Type A”. We are likely going into grad school hoping we will be the “perfect” SLP student – GUESS WHAT? That shouldn’t be a priority! You are there for YOU, to LEARN and to attain your goal of being a SLP! Being a student isn’t easy. You constantly put pressure on yourself and that pressure can be so overwhelming. Don’t worry about others perceiving you as the PERFECT student.
The biggest thing for me was shifting my expectations. I worked harder than I ever had and was so disappointed with the grades I was receiving. “How could I work THIS hard and only get a 72%”? I remember going to see one of my professors after receiving an unexpectedly low grade – I was SO upset and even cried. Not knowing how to meet my professor’s expectations was very discouraging. I was humbled by his response that he was not worried about me and that few get “A’s” in this program. Hearing this helped me shift my expectations. Instead of focusing solely on grades, I chose to challenge myself in other ways so I could improve and reach personal goals. This paid off and was reflected in my performance in class and in clinical placements. Always try to look at the bigger picture to find where you can excel.
Feelings of self-doubt are bound to happen. When working on assignments, a low level of confidence and feelings of anxiety would cause me to constantly doubt myself. I would spend so much time brainstorming and researching that I would question my abilities and my knowledge.
Imposter syndrome is REAL – in our IG LIVE, some of you mentioned the term “fake it ‘til you make it!”, which is a motto that can give you confidence. Although this is true and might help you, you NEED to realize that you know more than you give yourself credit for.
There are so many different learning styles and, unfortunately, universities can’t tailor to all learner types. Personally, multiple-choice questions aren’t my forte and due to the volume of students, multiple-choice exams are very popular. What did this mean for me? I needed to prioritize and expend effort on the assignments where I could demonstrate my strengths (e.g., labs, papers, assignments, short and long answer exams, etc.). I also tried to focus on applying my knowledge in clinical placements. In the end, that’s what’s MOST important. Being able to convert your classroom knowledge to better serve the patient in front of you. I promise you, if you do that, it won’t go unnoticed.
Being knocked down again and again
Ouufff… Friends, this one is tough and hits me right in the feels. Grad school challenges you. It makes you question yourself and your choices. It makes you nervous. However, it makes you stronger, smarter and more resilient.
It’s not easy… we know that. You prep for a session using research and EBP in your rationales for the child to be non compliant in the session and you get nearly nothing accomplished. You start a new clinical placement and don’t have a great rapport with your supervisor, which made you feel like you couldn’t do anything that was up to their standards. Friends, it is not easy!
I cried. I cried a lot… but I knew I wasn’t alone. You’ll get knocked down, but remember your “why” and reach out for support when you need a morale boost.
HUGE Scope of practice to learn in 2 years
GET THIS – you have to learn all of this in 2 years:
- Pediatric Language
- Auditory Verbal Therapy
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
- … etc. etc. etc.
It is very daunting when it seems like you have so much to learn in such a short amount of time (2 years may seem long… it’s not). Think about it, yes, some people will work in private practice and dip into many areas of SLP. However, many of us will find 1-2 things we REALLY love and focus on that for our career. We still have to learn everything else. You may be so motivated and interested in some classes, but others may feel like pulling teeth. That’s normal! You aren’t supposed to love everything! The motivation for certain classes(or lack thereof) will, however, influence your studies.
Although stressful, all of these challenges are opportunities to grow. The struggles of grad school have taught me so much. I have learned from all of my experiences and now, when I work with patients/families, I am very aware of different learning styles and try to adapt to each of their needs.
In the end, grad school is about learning to be a clinician. In those two years, you need to learn about patient care and how to APPLY all of that knowledge. Being great at multiple choice exams isn’t the end all be all, but having the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned to better support your patient will guide you to success.
What made it better?
- Meeting with your professors
- Being Prepared
- Organization/Time management
As mentioned, the “hard” part is over! You no longer have to compete with your classmates like you may have in undergrad – you’ve made it! Use your peers as a support system. “We’re all in this together” – form study groups, bounce ideas off each other, support one another.
People have different strengths. Hearing something explained differently or hearing someone else’s perspective on the topic may just be that extra piece of information to help make that concept “click”. This is a strategy that will also translate to your career so practice it now!
Meeting your professors
Although it may not always seem like it, your professors want you to succeed! Once I “checked myself” and got over the fact that I would be “showing a weakness” by going to see my professor during their office hours, I realized that they have SO much to share. I was able to explain what was working for me and what wasn’t based on MY learning style. The professors may be able to word things differently or explain things in a new way to support your learning. I also found it helpful to review past assignments with them and find out where I could improve and what exactly they are looking for.
You gain a better relationship with your professors, you earn their respect (they know you want to succeed), and you will probably gain some confidence and get rid of some of that self-doubt.
Find out what works for you! Being over prepared was the only way I felt ready enough for my exams. It’s way too easy to feel overwhelmed. For me, speaking in front of a group wasn’t easy. But, the more I did it and the more prepared I was, the more comfortable I felt doing it. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Knowing your weaknesses is so important. I would study alone first, and then in a group once I had a solid base (heeeeeyyyy… here comes that collaboration!). This would help me feel even more prepared.
This helped me so much! Researching and then getting the words on paper was one thing, but proofreading can provide so much more clarity! I know how I felt after writing an assignment for weeks … “over it”. Proofreading allows you to make those minor changes that can have an impact on how your assignment reads. It will also give you peace of mind.
Have someone else proofread your assignment as well! After writing and reading the same thing over and over, it kind of becomes a blur. Having a new set of eyes can be so beneficial (even if the person is not in the SLP field!).
Manage your time wisely. Grad school will take up so much of that time, but if you have a schedule, you can make sure to plan some “me time”. Find time for yourself, after all, you deserve it after all of your hard work. Go for a walk, watch a movie, do something you LOVE. Taking your mind off of school is healthy!
EXPERIENCE = CONFIDENCE, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone! Grad school is all about learning and experiencing new things. You are growing as a clinician, applying new skills! Every time you push yourself outside of that comfort zone, you are slowly crushing that self-doubt and building your confidence. What a great feeling! The more you try, the more you learn, the better you are, the more you earn (just kidding… I’m no poet). But actually, you don’t need to “fake it till you make it” … you already know so much. You’ve got this! If you still feel as though you don’t, then ask for help!
SO, what does this all mean? It means that getting a 70% doesn’t mean that you will be a bad clinician, or any less successful. It means that going to see your professor for advice doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. It means that leaping out of your comfort zone even though you are nervous will help you learn and build up your confidence. It means that the amount of effort you put into your work might not be represented in your grades, but will shine when you’re helping a patient achieve their goals.
Talking about grad school stress and challenges isn’t always on the headlines. It’s a difficult topic to bring up and takes vulnerability to discuss. I know that not everyone has had this experience, and that’s OK! I am sharing my experience to let others know that they are not alone.
SLP grad school is rough and tough. It pushes you beyond your limits, challenges you, and might even make you question why you started. SPOILER ALERT – the hard work, the tears and the stress are SO WORTH IT.
3 things to take away:
- Having difficulty in school will not make you a bad clinician!
- Your grades will not hinder your ability to get your dream job!
- Let the motivation of loving your career as an SLP carry you through all the stress of grad school.