Advice From a Former Tutor
I was a math and sciences tutor for the Texas A&M University Academic Success Center for three years as an undergraduate student. During my time as a tutor, I got to meet myriad students and observe their diverse techniques for learning, retention, and teaching. I got to see the different ways they motivated themselves to study, congratulated themselves on a good grade, and consoled themselves when their results did not align with their efforts. Some came into the tutoring center for a one or five-minute question while others stayed the entire semester, hour upon hour, night after night. As these students pursued their degrees, I witnessed their fear, their excitement, and their despair at a more intimate level than most parents, friends, and professors ever get to see. I was their peer. I had been through it. And I was there to help them get through it, too.
As a tutor, I understood why so many students who came to see me were struggling. They had just graduated high school or just switched majors, and for the first time in their lives, they had to work hard, with resiliency and of their own volition. I did my best to give them the tools they needed to succeed on their own, tools that I had developed as a freshman. I told them where to find helpful resources, how to study for the calculus common exams, why that chemistry rule doesn’t apply for that reaction, and whom to talk to when everything got to be too much.
Ultimately, I assumed that everyone who survived freshman and sophomore year had developed these skills, that they had all learned how to properly study for exams, approach homework problems, and email a professor for help. Surely, we upperclassmen were experts at using the library catalog and knew where to go for free counseling services at this point. We undoubtedly knew what we were doing and never cried in our rooms from the stress of studying, nor constantly glanced at our calendars to make sure the Q-drop deadline hadn’t magically changed. And there was no way we still procrastinated on studying and submitted unfinished homework assignments, right?
I assumed the upperclassmen had figured it all out, just as I had assumed the graduate students had as well. However, as I am in my third semester of grad school and have seen stress and despair overwhelm my fellow classmates and friends, I can conclusively say that we could all use a little refresher on those resources and tools that not only help us survive in school but help us make it through with as much enjoyment and as little
stress as possible.
You Can Do It.
You, in fact, can do it. I hear so many of my fellow classmates and peers talk about how they feel like they’re a fraud and don’t deserve to be taking a certain course, researching a certain project, or pursuing a certain degree. This “imposter syndrome” can be debilitating at times, especially to people who are working towards accomplishments that are perceived as more prestigious. We see the smart people around us who seem like they have got it all together, and we feel lacking in comparison. We feel that if these other people are the caliber of acceptance, then we must have been admitted into grad school through some fluke.
However, nobody is alone in feeling this way. Approximately 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. For graduate students, this can be due to the newness of our research, the heightened difficulty of our classes, or the increased expertise of our peers and professors. Therefore, rather than focusing on what is suddenly harder or more intimidating, focus on the achievements that got you here. You were selected for a reason. You are deserving to be here. You can do it.
It’s Okay to Panic
Stressing out over an exam and getting upset over a bad grade does not mean a person is weak or unqualified for their degree program. It is okay to have bad days; the important thing is not let it affect your self-confidence and determination. A missed homework assignment, a bad exam grade, a difficult professor - these are all things we have faced and overcome. It is okay to panic; it is okay to cry in your bedroom alone; it is okay to feel overwhelmed. The key is in the balance. Don’t stifle your emotions to the point of boiling over, but also don’t wallow in self-doubt to the point of giving up. Allow yourself to feel what you’re experiencing, and then pick yourself back up.
Take It One Day at a Time
A few times as a tutor, I received students who were so stressed and behind in their classes that they broke down in front of me in the middle of a homework problem. Through the tears, they would tell me about some bad exam grade or difficult professor that was making them worried about failing their class, losing their scholarship, or disappointing their parents. I never knew how to console them, but I knew I could at the very least help them with this one assignment.
So, that’s what we did. After a few minutes of letting them feel what they were experiencing, we put aside their worries about the things in the future that hadn’t happened yet and instead focused on the task at hand. I had these students come back frequently, and we did that for every homework assignment and every exam until, before they knew it, the semester was over, and they had walked away with the grade they not only wanted but had earned by their own intelligence and determination.
Sometimes all we can do to keep ourselves from going crazy is to take it one day at a time.
You can do it. It is okay to panic. Take it one day at a time. Here are some resources for support and guidance throughout the semester.
• Academic Coaching: Academic Success Center - Academic Coaching (asc.tamu.edu/academic-coaching)
• Counseling and Psychological Services: Services (caps.tamu.edu)
• Library Services: Services (library.tamu.edu/services/)
• Academic Success Center Workshops: Academic Success Center - Courses & Workshops