discouraged grad student - how to overcome?

wijsman at max1.u.washington.edu wijsman at max1.u.washington.edu
Tue Sep 19 20:42:54 EST 1995


I need some advice on an issue which I am sure has come up for other people
who read this newsgroup.  What do you do when you have a bright female
graduate student working for you and that student gets sufficiently
discouraged about her own abilities to consider quitting grad school even
when from the faculty perspective there is plenty of evidence that the
student is really very talented?  I don't know if I am worrying because I
know most students have some ups & downs and this is just one of those, or
because in a quantitative field (biostatistics in this case) the cultural
baggage about females not succeeding in a math area is more extreme than
in, say, bench biology, and I want to make sure that the student does not
make a decision because of lack of self confidence which she will later
regret.  I remember that I, too, was pretty insecure about my abilities at
the same age (mid-20's) and a lot of that disappeared with the magic age of
30 for some reason.  I am posting here because there just might be some
ideas/experience out there which I haven't thought about which could help
in this situation - either to find a way to quell some of her fears, or to
give any futher information which would help make her decisions easier.

The situation is as follows.  I have such a student right now working for
me as an RA.  She has not yet chosen a thesis topic.  Everything I have
seen about her in the last couple of years she has worked with me indicates
that she is a good scientist.  She came out of a biological undergraduate
program, but has done well in the graduate classes in statistics &
biostatistics and is good at asking the "right" kinds of questions when
working on research problems or reading journal articles.  Last year she
took the very challenging statistics theory class which all our students
take (and she did reasonably well).  She found the theory class to be very
discouraging, though, and now, despite having passed all her qualifying
exams (including the theory exam), seriously questions her own ability in
the field.  Despite my attempts to reassure her to the contrary, she is
still not convinced that she can do a Ph.D. in biostatistics. Any advice? 
Past similar stories with happy/sad endings?

Ellen Wijsman
Research Associate Professor
Div of Medical Genetics, BOX 357720
and Dept of Biostatistics
University of Washington
Seattle, WA   98195-7720
wijsman at u.washington.edu



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