Was the swan really ugly or was it just different?

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There is an old, old tale of a beautiful swan whose egg accidentally rolls to a pack of a ducks eggs that have not hatched. The swan’s egg hatches later than the duck’s eggs (first thing to be compared) and when it does the swan looks different and said to be the ugliest amongst its ‘siblings’. Yes, you guessed it this is the classic tale of the UGLY DUCKLING. The question I usually ask is “was the swan really ugly or was it just different?”  or “ugly with whose standards of beauty?”. You see, comparison is something we all face and in the journey of postgraduate studies, is unavoidable. How we choose to respond to it makes the difference.

Comparison for me, in a sense, comes with the package of twin-ship. Growing up, my sister and I were subject to a lot of comparisons, things like our height, teeth, hair, intelligence and even something as mundane as the small foot toe, silly right?  I am familiar with comparison if we could smell it, I would easily distinguish it from other smells; if we could taste it, it would be one that my taste buds are all too familiar with and if it were a certain kind of walk, I would be able to spot it from a great distance. When I was younger however, I did not care, it did not matter that I was being compared to my twin sister because she was always with me I actually thought we were being given compliments. My little human thoughts could not have been further from the truth.

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Me and my sister

As I grew older though, I started understanding the difference between compliments and comparison and realized that actually we were being compared more than we were being complimented. Comparison is rarely done to give compliments to people. More often than not, it is for setting them up against each other or to demolish ones spirit while uplifting the other person.   

Having been subject to a lot of comparison has taught me a few things that I would like to share with you. Hopefully, they will encourage to navigate your post-graduate journey being your best self.

  • TRUST YOURSELF:  It does not matter who or what your character or abilities are being compared to, trust yourself. Trusting one’s self is particularly important in postgrad studies because the entire process leading to the completion of studies depends highly on self-confidence. If there is one thing I am certain about is that part of the successful completion of my PhD studies depends on my ability to trust my decisions. Either about which methodology to use (backed by the literature of course), when and how to collect data, which method of analysis is appropriate for my data, deciding on literature is appropriate to use or ultimately writing that paper I want to publish. One of the most fashionable ways comparison is manifested in postgraduate studies is students being compared to each other, even when they are different disciplines, they still get compared to each other. Among its many detrimental consequences, comparison has the devastating ability to kill ones confidence such that you end up asking for everyone’s opinion before making even the simplest decision like which dress or pair of socks to buy. Learn to trust yourself. This of course does not mean that you disregard all forms of advice and become arrogant, it just means you must make your thoughts and decisions about yourself important to you before taking into consideration other people’s opinions. All these come from loving yourself and taking time to knowing yourself.
  • AFFIRM YOURSELF IN YOUR TRUTH:  Your truth is your dreams, abilities, vision for your preferred future, the things you have deemed are possible for you to archive. Affirming yourself in your truth will help you stay focused on yourself. Your truth is also the vision you have for the direction and the impact you want your post-grad studies to have and to take. I would like to believe that as postgraduate students, we all have a vision of the kind of impact we want our studies or projects to have. It helps to constantly affirm yourself in that vision and not get caught up in being compared to people who have their own visions about their studies. Encourage yourself in your truth. The danger of not constantly affirming yourself in your truth is that you slowly and unconsciously start believing the inadequacies and negatives that people’s opinions impose on you and eventually act accordingly.
  • DO UNTO OTHER AS YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO DO TO YOU: This principle was taught to me very early in life when I was in pre-school. Back then I just thought it was a bible verse that meant “do not bully other kids” and actually I still think that is exactly what it means. The application of this principle is quite simple, the way you treat and love yourself extend the same courtesy to other people. The same way you would not put yourself in a position where you will be belittled and your efforts being unappreciated, do not subject other people to that treatment.

Of course, there is the other side: the good comparison such as comparing people’s work to give back positive feedback, to encourage one to improve their work, someone using past results to compare their work to what has been previously achieved either by them or by someone else. Comparison done in an appropriate manner is good because it can be used as a breeding ground for healthy competition which yields effectiveness.

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So next time when you feel like entertaining someone comparing you to someone else or u feel the need to subject other people to comparison ask yourself IS IT EVEN WORTH IT? It is important to always remember (for yourself and for other people) that sometimes it is not your abilities or your personality that will make people compare you to other people for the purpose of making you feel inferior but it could be because just like the swan you are different to what they are used to, they just need some time to see your true colours.

Relationships……with our supervisors of course!!

After reading Kimberleigh Tommy’s post last month titled: “We need a break, it’s both of us (but more you than me)”, it left me thinking about the importance of relationships as a postgraduate student. When I say relationships, I obviously mean the relationships we have within our “professional” space. While choosing a project that you like or love is the most important aspect when starting a Master’s or Doctoral degree, one must also take into consideration who their supervisor will be. Unlike with jobs where you really have no control of who your boss will be, with a postgraduate degree, you have the option of choosing who you will report to for the next two or three years of your life. I personally think it is important to have a good relationship with your supervisor, especially since this will be the person who will be guiding and mentoring you throughout your postgraduate degree. 

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I read an article about the different types of PhD – supervisor relationships written by Susanna Chamberlain from Griffith University, it gives a broad idea of the different types of relationships students have with their supervisors. It worries me that my relationship with my supervisor does not fall under the ten relationships discussed in the article. I would say that my relationship with my supervisor is different from what other fellow postgrads have with their supervisors. Sometimes he disappears for some time and never responds to my emails, this stresses me out so much because that is exactly when I need something from him. Other days I see him twenty times in one day and I want nothing from him. We are always playing a hide and seek game, with him always doing most of the hiding. Luckily for us, we always manage to get things done eventually, which is where I believe I got my procrastination tendencies from.  

I always find it interesting that my supervisor has different relationships with his students. Whenever we get together and discuss life with him as a supervisor, we all have different stories to share but one thing we have in common is how difficult it is to get him to respond to our emails. I think he treats us differently in response to how we act towards him, which I personally think is great because we are all unique with different personalities and different ways of doing things. 

During the first few months of my MSc, I had extremely high expectations of how my relationship with my supervisor would be based on how other people described their relationships with their supervisors. They would have weekly meetings with their supervisors to discuss the progress made and what to do next; when this didn’t happen between me and my supervisor, I would panic thinking I’m doing something wrong. I would see him every day during tea time and he would have a small chat with me about how I am doing and other random things. It took me almost half the year to finally be comfortable with the fact that he is the type of supervisor that is relaxed. He is the “decaf” kind of supervisor as defined by another SAYAS blog post. Once I finally accepted what kind of a supervisor he is, I panicked less when we didn’t see each other for three months and I didn’t know what my research topic was about anymore because I got stuck in the “black hole” of reading papers. I would find myself again after having a quick meeting with him and it turned out that those endless papers I read were quite useful.

There were however times when I would panic all over again when I needed to submit an abstract or discuss my presentation for a conference and I couldn’t find him to discuss the abstract before the deadline. I got no comments from him about my dissertation and I panicked every day for 13 weeks during my examination. At the time I was extremely frustrated and I was convinced I would change universities and supervisors for my PhD. Little did I know that him giving me space and time to learn was his way of mentoring me to be a great researcher. I passed my MSc with distinction and this is all thanks to him. Since he wasn’t there to critique me on my writing, I pushed myself so hard to give it my best and my best is what I gave it.

Looking back now, and still working with the same supervisor, I see that my supervisor was a teacher; a mentor who supported and facilitated the emotional processes. His way of supervising is completely different from the rest of my colleagues’ supervisors. If you know that you are the kind of person who needs constant monitoring and guidance in everything that you do, then you should get yourself a supervisor that does that otherwise, you will finish your degree exhausted emotionally and physically. All supervisors have a lesson to offer. Even the most “difficult” ones are a lesson for life.  My supervisor and I still have random talks about politics and history, how I should get married one day and how bad the economy is. I love that we can balance academics and personal life. I chose to continue my PhD with him because “better the devil you know” right? Choose your supervisor wisely and you will have an enjoyable and fulfilling postgraduate career.