discouraged grad student - how to overcome?

Rick Meyer rmp at peak.org
Tue Sep 26 21:20:59 EST 1995

In article <1995Sep19.174254.1 at max1.u.washington.edu>, 
wijsman at max1.u.washington.edu says...
>I need some advice on an issue which I am sure has come up for other 
>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 
>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 
>know most students have some ups & downs and this is just one of those, 
>because in a quantitative field (biostatistics in this case) the 
>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 
>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 
>the same age (mid-20's) and a lot of that disappeared with the magic age 
>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 
>in this situation - either to find a way to quell some of her fears, or 
>give any futher information which would help make her decisions easier.
>The situation is as follows.  I have such a student right now working 
>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 
>that she is a good scientist.  She came out of a biological 
>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 
>discouraging, though, and now, despite having passed all her qualifying
>exams (including the theory exam), seriously questions her own ability 
>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 
>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
I wish you had not included so many details about the person you are 
concerned about.  I know it would REALLY embarrass me to find out my 
professor put a note like this about me on the internet.  As a grad 
school dropout myself I can tell you that there are many reasons why 
someone would quit that have nothing to do with lack of self confidence 
or ability.  Some reasons include: burnout,lack of funds, lack of 
commitment, other pursuits, etc.  It is a very personal choice that only 
she can make.  I think you are "hand-holding" a little too much with this 
person.  Give her some space and she'll make the decision that is right 
for her.

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