The Certain Uncertainty of Graduate School

This is a new space for me and a new writing medium. On mention of my scheduled blog debut, admittedly I found myself a bit stumped on the lack of parameters for the assignment. “No word count? No APA Formatting? I’ve never done this before.” My experience writing this assignment is a rather benign, but still demonstrative example of the broader topic I’d like to highlight in today’s blog post. Graduate school in clinical psychology is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty, a state that may seem daunting at times, but when tolerated, can be quite rewarding.

To fully appreciate the amount of uncertainty, we must start a year prior to the program’s start date: the application process. Applicants must navigate diligently through countless school websites, and decide upon a limited few to which they’d like to apply. In many cases, applicants have never set foot on the campuses of these schools or even been in the state wherein they reside. Applicants then must write personal statements that are unique (but not too unique), demonstrative of ability (but not conceited), and personable (but not oversharing) all in the hopes of piquing an unknown application reviewer’s interest. Countless hours of work conclude with a surprisingly anticlimactic push of the submit button.

Once applications are submitted, it’s not until several months later that applicants hear whether or not they’ll be invited for an interview. The timing of invitations is unclear, so students will frequently check forums like the Student Doctor Network or Grad Cafe to see if others have received an invitation. I recall some interview invitations matching up well with the dates listed on the forums and others not aligning with the dates.

Once interviews are completed, and offers are extended, applicants must then decide where to live for the next five to seven years of their life. Moving away from family, friends, and significant others to somewhere foreign to them is difficult, and at times, may seem nonsensical. However, graduate school is what applicants have wanted to do for quite some time. It’s what they’ve been working toward for several years. Historically, it holds more personal weight than the alternatives. Once applicants are able to remind themselves of these beliefs, and their reasons for applying in the first place, the decision to attend becomes easier.

The start of graduate school—my current status—is equally uncertain. I’m three weeks into the program, and still orienting to the research-practice-teach life. Faculty and students around me continue checking in to see how I’m doing, which I appreciate on its own, and also find reaffirming of my school decision. So far, I’ve delivered my largest lecture to date, read about complex statistical methods that sound just short of magic, and started learning very detailed assessment protocols with rigid grading rubrics. Most of the tasks I’m doing are unfamiliar, leading me to wonder if I’m doing them correctly (or at least incorrectly in an understandable fashion).

Uncertainty has been present during all of the major transitions in my life, during my application process to graduate school, and during my start of graduate school. Although my experiences are unfamiliar, my feeling of uncertainty isn’t.

At times, I feel apprehensive and uneasy, but as a whole, I feel content. Content knowing that graduate school has been my trajectory for quite a while. Content knowing that my concerns will resolve themselves in time. Content knowing that not yet knowing is okay. 

-Mac Kelly