Hello lovelies! Today I’m back with another post in my College Real Talk series. I’m sharing a guest post from Amanda, the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan and the Amanda Cross Blog. Amanda is chatting all about how her grad school mentor let her down, and how she dealt with that situation. Without further ado, here is her story!
In the Beginning
Going to graduate school is something that I have always wanted to do, but when the time came to go, I was hesitating. I was making every excuse in the book. Then came August. I reluctantly packed my bags and went to a new university, because my alma mater didn’t have the program that I wanted.
Although I knew that graduate school would be so different from undergrad, I didn’t realize how hectic and stressful it could be. I don’t regret going to graduate school one bit; though I do have a little bit of regret about how much weight I put into the things that happened to me.
There will be things that happen to you that only affect you. I doubt my ex-mentor ever truly thought about what I felt at the moment, and I am not sure if I want them to. I believe they have their own issues to deal with, and that’s something that they need to figure out on their own.
Meeting My Mentor
I met my mentor during my first semester of graduate school. I’m not going to pretend that it was a perfect meeting. I spent most of my first semester drowning in books of straight from the source sociological theory.
At one point, and I am not kidding, I dropped their class. I emailed them after (which you should never do). After a rational, back to earth talk, and a whole lot of paperwork, my attempt to jump ship was thwarted, and I was back in sociological theory. For the rest of the semester, I was just slightly drowning in sociological theory, and I ended the course with an A.
Before the end of the semester, I was given an opportunity. Up until this point, I wasn’t adjusting well to my new university. I wasn’t involved on campus, and I wasn’t making friends (another thing I don’t recommend). I wasn’t even sure if I saw myself back at the university for another semester. Then, one day as I was chatting with my sociological theory professor, they mentioned a graduate assistantship.
I had wanted to get a graduate assistantship for my first semester, but I was so stressed out before coming to campus that I missed the opportunity to apply for the fall semester. After chatting with my family, I decided that I should at least apply. I got the graduate assistantship…and this is where the next part of the story comes in.
Professors Are Not Perfect
As a part of my graduate assistantship, I worked with two professors, including my mentor. I worked a few hours with them, and I got the awesome opportunity to shadow one of their undergraduate courses and become a teaching assistant of sorts.
This was one of my favorite parts of the semester. I was dealing with students, and I was getting to learn about a sociological topic I was interested in, all the while getting some valuable experience. I met some interesting people in that class, and it was fun to take a course without actually having to do much work for it.
As the semester went on, though, I noticed some balls were starting to drop. Students were bombarding me with questions and concerns for their end of the semester projects that I couldn’t answer. My mentor had always been a little unconventional, and they were dealing with a lot with their health and other issues.
I tried to avert as many crises as I could, tried to calm the nerves of students in the class, and just tried to not lose my grip in the process. I mean, I had another professor I was doing hours for on top of my own coursework.
Then the semester began to shatter as my mentor went dark in the last few weeks of class. I was left coping with the guilt that I didn’t make a bigger deal out of moving along the grading process and dealing with emails from concerned students.
It was not a great way to end the semester.
Why You Should Distance Yourself From Your Mentors Sometimes
At the end of that semester, I think I was still too blind to see the signs. I wish that I could go back in time and tell myself not to stress about the upcoming months.
As my second semester of graduate school was coming to a close, I took advantage of another opportunity. The opportunity to go from graduate assistant to research assistant. It took a while to come to my conclusion, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.
Around the same time, I was also beginning to work on my thesis because I needed to defend it that fall. The only logical conclusion for me during the summer was to include my mentor on my committee. At this point, even though I was beginning to see the signs, my personal experiences with my mentor were mostly positive. I knew that other people had negative experiences with them, but I couldn’t necessarily corroborate those experiences, and I was using their health issues to explain away the problems I had seen.
I wasn’t working with my mentor much that semester as I was primarily working with another professor on campus with my research assistantship. Although I had put my mentor on my committee, deadlines were approaching, and I couldn’t depend on them to be as present as they needed to be.
For the entirety of my third semester, I could probably count on two hands how often I had seen my mentor, maybe even one hand. They weren’t as active on campus, and they were neglecting their responsibilities. They were dealing with their own issues, and I was dealing with guilt for potentially having to abandon the relationship because of that.
At the end of the day though, they were listed as my thesis adviser, mainly because I was too scared to take them off the committee. They weren’t there for me to make sure that everything got done, but I felt indebted to them in a way.
I was always taught to look after the people who look after you. Sure, they weren’t around much at the moment, but they were the entire reason I got my graduate assistantship and a big part of the reason I got my research assistantship. I felt like I owed them something even if they didn’t truly deserve it.
After a heartbreaking conversation with my department chair and graduate coordinator, I made the brave decision to cut ties with the advisor relationship. I couldn’t hide behind anyone else. I had to be the one to make the initial statement. Then my department backed my decision and helped me take the next steps.
How To Stop That Decision From Eating You Alive
I still wonder about that decision from time to time even though it’s been almost a year. I’m not sure the situation ever truly bothered my ex-mentor though.
I had to realize that my education is worth something to me. Plus, I needed to get my thesis committee back on track so that I could finish my degree. I was so close to the finish line, I had to let go of my personal feelings about abandoning people who helped me.
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t look after the people who have helped you. You most definitely should. I can’t count the times I have stood up for my ex-mentor to other students in my department. I was trying to rationalize the enormous shift I had seen in them. They were just going through a phase or having issues. There comes a time when even the problems you have aren’t enough to excuse certain behaviors.
If I could give any advice on this, I would say the following:
Recognize That People (No Matter Their Occupation) Are Human
It’s so easy to think that people of authority, like professors, are some sort of superhuman. Professors have the power to change your way of thinking; how you see who you are, and how you look at the world. On top of that, professors are authority figures, and we learn from a very young age to respect authority.
At the end of the day, though, under the layers or perfectly rehearsed slideshow presentations, professors are human. They have flaws, they have lives outside of school, etc.
I wasn’t ready for the level of connection that I had with professors once I reached graduate school. Although graduate school is professional, professors tend to be more willing to share various aspects of their life. With that new level of vulnerability comes other potential issues.
Long story short, your professors were once you. You would not expect yourself to be perfect, so you shouldn’t expect that from your professors either.
Take Your Own Mental & Physical Health Seriously
I let a situation go on for far too long because I felt some warped sense of loyalty. The decision to remove my ex-mentor from my committee gnawed away at me for the longest time. I was too afraid of the reaction when I finally made it happen.
Getting an education is difficult though, and you shouldn’t compromise your mental or physical health for it. I think some mild school-related stress is to be expected. If stress negatively impacts your life, which it did for me, I would encourage you to get your priorities in order and focus on health first.
You can’t be your best self if you are not mentally and physically healthy.
Surround Yourself With Other Mentors
Fortunately, I have not become a jaded person because of this experience. I have learned so much from the other professors in my department. I couldn’t be more grateful for their support and patience while I was dealing with my own issues.
When you are let down by one person, it doesn’t mean you can’t count on other people. Yes, you may have a negative relationship with one person, but that’s only one person.
Don’t generalize your fears onto other people. Instead, be cautiously optimistic. It’s okay to have a bit of a wall up. Don’t let the wall suffocate you.
Thank you so much for listening and to Alyssa for her College Real Talk platform. I never thought that I would discuss this part of my life, but I want other students who may have had a similar experience to know that they are not alone. You shouldn’t be jaded or distrust the other amazing mentors in your life.
Things happen that are out of our control. I couldn’t control the way my mentor acted, whether intentionally or because of some larger issues they were dealing with. However, I could control my reaction to them.
I hope that my story and advice encourage you to make the tough decisions in your life. Surround yourself with family, friends, colleagues, and other relevant people. You can make the decisions that are right for you and your well being.
It’s okay to look out for yourself.
Thanks again to Amanda for sharing her story with me! I think her story is very applicable to so many situations, so I really appreciated her willingness to share! If you want to know more about here, check out these links.
If you’ve ever had an experience like this, please share in the comments! I love hearing how these college real talk stories resonate with different people!