How to cope with day job / school stress
May 13, 2009 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Help me deal emotionally with a bad case of academic jealousy.

As those who've read some of my previous posts, I am working on an MLS. after having received a Ph.D. in classical history (B.A. in classical studies). I failed at the job search for classicist/ancient history positions. I now feel at a disadvantage in my MLS. program because, not having studied library science in college, I am encountering most of these subjects for the first time. I also don't have time to get into subjects in the same depth as students who are not working, or working short hours on the campus. I work 30 hours a week and I commute to campus (about 60 to 90 minutes depending on the time of day).

I realize that the shoe is on the other foot and some students in my ancient history doctoral program probably felt the same way about having to learn ancient Greek, if they hadn't had it in college. In my doctoral program I had a fellowship and did T.A. work-study, but many of my fellow students were also working their way through their program by teaching or unrelated jobs. So I don't expect any particular sympathy.

I do need advice on how to manage my emotions. I have been stuffing them down, telling myself at my day job that it isn't about me, I am a merely ancillary person who can be let go at any time. The school where I am the MLS.-less librarian is a special education school and so the real work with the students has a heavy dose of therapy and social work. There is a high level of background chaos due to the students' problems.

I have no skills or training in therapy/social work/SE teaching and feel basically useless. I have done all kinds of things that were not in the job description per se in order to make myself useful, including applying for and obtaining grants for the library (many students are in a lower-income category), updating the nonfiction collection, and fixing the catalog. I feel both chronically guilty (that I am not a social work-type person) and underappreciated. There isn't any way that I could do my homework at work.

I did fine in my MLS courses last semester and one of them this semester. But a course on information structure (cataloging, but also databases and a heavy dose of information architecture theory) has left me feeling stupid, as if something bad has happened to my brain in the nine years since my Ph.D. I am good at reading, synthesizing written material, writing, ancient and modern languages, and recall. I do not have a particularly abstract or philosophical turn of mind; when I get abstract, it's political.

In the cataloging class I am feeling jealous (because the final exam and term paper are approaching and I'm stressed out) of those students who are getting the concepts better than I am, because they have been exposed to these concepts longer or have more abstract minds, even though many other students are also having trouble. I am getting worried about my future library job search (it's the end of my first year). I thought I wanted to work in an academic library, but now I am afraid that the competition will be too stiff.

In short, I'm feeling psyched out and burned out. I am afraid to take some time off either from my day job (because I can't count on getting another) or from the MLS. program (past the prerequisites, you basically have to take the courses as they are offered and can't count on them being offered again soon).

I need emotional self-management tips and especially on managing feelings of perfectionism, jealousy, and anger. I apologize for turning AskMe into therapyfilter, but I don't have a personal therapist and I can't vent most of this to my parents or to other students.
posted by bad grammar to Work & Money (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am doing a PhD in a field that I didn't study in undergrad. After the 1st year or so, it all evens out with those that had undergrad study.

And in fact, some of the people who had studied this field as undergrads felt so compelled to act like they know the material, it clouded their ability to ask questions.

The other students are stressing out just as much about the paper and final exam as you are, but they aren't "allowed" to show it.

Stop thinking about what your classmates think and focus on doing what you want to do and what your advisor thinks. Work hard and no one can really judge you.
posted by k8t at 5:00 PM on May 13, 2009


Just try to avoid thinking about it. Whenever you start to think about these issues, put them out of mind and try to spend your time studying the material if you find yourself drifting back to these thoughts. Don't dwell. At some point, this will all be past you.
posted by delmoi at 5:03 PM on May 13, 2009


Surely you learned this in your PhD program and just forgot along the years: comparing yourself to your peers will make your life hard and may even prevent you from obtaining the degree. EVERYONE has something that they bring to the table, including you, and all of those things are valuable, together. No one person can succeed in life without the interactions they have with many other people, on a variety of levels.

That being said, there is a girl in my PhD program (pharmacology) who had her law degree, then just decided to go into science. She literally pretty much started from scratch. I have no idea what sort of emotions she had along the way, but I've always sort of envied her. She can approach the subject completely free of bias, and more importantly, completely free of self-deprecation because she forgot something she was "supposed" to know. She doesn't know what she is "supposed" to know. I can't imagine how freeing that must be.
posted by sickinthehead at 5:05 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I suggest you talk to your program adviser and your information structure instructor soon about your worries about your competency in the class as well as your career options in the future. I struggle with similar issues in academic perfectionism and tend to think I'm always at the bottom of the pack or out of my depth. It has taken a couple of professors pulling me aside and telling me that I had to stop destructive habits like turning work in late (because I was freaking out) because they genuinely liked my work and wanted to hear more from me. Trust your professors to give you the honest truth, and then promise yourself that you will give as much weight to their perspective as you give to your own negative perspective.

Also, your credentials and PhD tell me that you are smart, dedicated, and hardworking. You are of a very, very small percentage of people with PhD's in this country. It's difficult for me to imagine an employer passing your application over without a glance (although I am not a library looking to hire). Again, I think this is a great conversation to have with your program director who has seen many students come through your program and knows what you will have to offer.

Hang in there and give yourself a pat on the back for all of your hard work!
posted by Mouse Army at 5:07 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the most practical way to manage these sorts of feelings is to acknowledge them without getting swept up in them. Notice when you're feeling jealous -- you may even explicitly think to yourself "oh, look, there I go feeling jealous again" -- and then simply let it go at that. Don't berate yourself for your jealousy. Don't tell stories in your head about how other students have it easier, or how you were once one of those students who had it so easy. Just notice, and let it go.

The thing to keep in mind is that all feelings pass. They all ebb and flow. You're not going to be overwhelmed forever; you're just overwhelmed right now. You're not defined by your anger; you're just feeling angry right now. If you have a negative feedback loop running in your head, you can counteract it with something both positive and realistic (my own mantra in times like this is "whatever happens, I can handle it."). Developing this kind of internal monologue regarding difficult or painful feelings is, I've found, a good way to keep them from ballooning up into being bigger than they really are.
posted by scody at 5:10 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'd just concentrate on doing the best work that I could without comparing myself. Frankly, unless you're in a really unusual LIS program, most of the students won't have studied any of this in undergrad.

My program has a ton of distance students who are working full time jobs on top of the classes they're taking, so maybe your program has others in the same situation as you? If so, it might help to get in touch with some of them and talk about their coping strategies.

If I remember your earlier post correctly I suspect that most of the problem is that you're completely burnt out at your day job. Is there any way you can work somewhere else? Become a full time student with an assistantship at a campus library?
posted by MsMolly at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2009


Seconding scody.

It also strikes me that you have a very strong internal critic. Look at what you said:
I have been stuffing them down, telling myself at my day job that it isn't about me, I am a merely ancillary person who can be let go at any time.

While that may be true, it is also true that you are doing the best you can with the students with the tools that you have and that you have provided some amazing additional services (like getting grants!) those go above and beyond what anyone might expected when they hired you. Your principal should love you. And if he/she doesn't, you should at least appreciate yourself for using the skills that you do have to bring something extra to job.

The best way that I know of to learn how to deal with your internal critic is with the techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy. I strongly recommend that you check out a copy of David Burn's Feeling Good. While the book targets depression, there are several chapters that directly teach the skills of mastering the internal critic.
posted by metahawk at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The only reason your classmates would have experience is if they already work in a library. Cataloguing is universally confusing, deliberately at times. At that stage of my program, I felt like I had made a terrible mistake and didn't know when it would make sense to me. But then it clicked, and I got through ok.

Agree with MsMolly that being overworked at your day job can really contribute to this. I did another course a couple of years ago while in a management role, and the stress was huge. The last thing I wanted to do was evaluate record management systems and filing nomenclature which looked like gobbledygook to my overworked brain.

You will get through this, and you will be a valuable asset on the academic job market - that PhD will sell you. And unless you have a strange career like mine, once you leave the class you're troubled by now you may never need to think those topics again. As long as you pass, the rest doesn't matter.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2009


Hmm, can't tell from your profile whether you're in the USA, but I was most surprised by the fact that you're encountering people who have a bachelor's in library science. Most library skools are graduate-level only. So maybe the other students don't have the leg up you believe they do.

At any rate, three points:
-As some of the other posters have mentioned, this might not be about library school (or managing your emotions about it) specifically. Have you considered seeing a career counselor, or a general counselor, at your school? They probably see these sorts of problems often.

-Depending on how mobile you are, your PhD could come in mighty, mighty handy in the library world. Many academic libraries, in fact, only hire librarians with at least a master's in another subject. Certainly a PhD in classical history would be an asset in a history or museum library. Most important, you're not the typical English or education major that saturates the library world-- something that's an asset for libraries who want to diversify the subject specialties among their staff.

-Cataloging is very easy to feel stupid at. I'm a decent librarian, but a horrible cataloger myself. Good catalogers are a different breed. Don't beat yourself up-- at least one dimension of librarianship is very difficult for almost everyone.

Good luck!
posted by Rykey at 5:51 PM on May 13, 2009


When you get to the root of it all, it's really a fear of failure, a need to be liked by your peers, an envy for something you lack (forgetting what all you have that 'they' don't). There's actually a few things in this old thread that might be useful. It's one of those things that's easy to see what you're doing and what you should be doing -- it's just actually changing the thoughts that are difficult. Best of luck to you!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:51 PM on May 13, 2009


I`m answering primarily from a background of having experienced academic jealousy myself.

The most important thing that you wrote in your post is this:

I do need advice on how to manage my emotions. I have been stuffing them down...


Looking at the rest of your post, I felt that most of it could be traced back to this one statement. My own struggle with ignoring my emotions was finally resolved when I was honest with myself about my feelings and thoughts, and the reason they were emerging. Writing it down helped the most, it helps to parse out the real origin of the emotion.

Most of the time the problem wasn`t what was actually happening around me or the people I was comparing myself to, but rather what I perceived myself as being capable of doing or creating or succeeding at. I was merely using the situation and people around me to "confirm" false beliefs I held about myself and the world. One book I found useful was "Feeling Good," which focuses on changing belief and thought patterns. Or simply journaling may work for you.

Try not to run away from your feelings or avoid them. The quicker you can tackle what is holding you back, the better. You may even find that part of the anxiety you are feeling is related to the fact that the path you`ve chosen may not be the best fit for you, and you may be better off in a related field of study. If it`s any consolation, most of the people I was jealous of in school aren`t doing any greater things than I am 5 years later. In fact some of them are jealous of me for going off the beaten path of my profession. Good luck.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 6:49 PM on May 13, 2009


Librarian here.

I now feel at a disadvantage in my MLS. program because, not having studied library science in college, I am encountering most of these subjects for the first time.

Practically no one in an MLS program has had a single class in library and information science before entering the program, unless they got an LTA (library technical assistant) associate's degree in a community college somewhere. Very few people in grad school have gone that route.

The school where I am the MLS.-less librarian is a special education school and so the real work with the students has a heavy dose of therapy and social work. There is a high level of background chaos due to the students' problems.

I have no skills or training in therapy/social work/SE teaching and feel basically useless. I have done all kinds of things that were not in the job description per se in order to make myself useful, including applying for and obtaining grants for the library (many students are in a lower-income category), updating the nonfiction collection, and fixing the catalog.


It sounds as if you're getting valuable library experience on your job, possibly much more relevant than many of your fellow students are getting in their graduate assistant positions. If your employers needed people with therapy/social work/SE teaching experience and/or training, they should have required it for the position and/or provided training as part of the job.

But a course on information structure (cataloging, but also databases and a heavy dose of information architecture theory) has left me feeling stupid, as if something bad has happened to my brain in the nine years since my Ph.D.

...or it's not being taught well...

...many other students are also having trouble.

Bingo!

Let's sum up here. You're spending a lot of time working at a job in an institution which seems to be about as different from your previous academic experience as it can possibly be and still be called a "school"; you're going above and beyond the job requirements and still giving yourself grief because your employer didn't adequately prepare you for the social-work aspect of it; and you're stressing over a class that everyone else seems to be stressing over as well. Hard on yourself much?

The best thing that you can do, I think, is to connect with your fellow students as much and whenever your schedule will allow. I myself had the cataloging class from hell, and participating in student bitchfests about it helped me cope when it became obvious that the problems were not going to be fixed any time soon. I also think that your fellow students would be impressed with you, both by your background and by your current job experience; at least, this professional librarian of many years' experience is.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:50 PM on May 13, 2009


I am getting worried about my future library job search

Before Easter dinner this year I was watching The Masters tournament with my father in law, and one of the (retired pro golfer) commentators mentioned a piece of advice he'd gotten long before from some older, more famous golfer: (paraphrasing) 'When you putt, don't try to look like anybody else.'

You're you, and you're fine. Treat yourself like an intellectual athlete. Eat well, get enough sleep, and put your special talents to work. Leave the spectating to somebody else.
posted by jon1270 at 6:55 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you, everyone. The cataloging class will be over soon. I will look into Burns and even see if my workplace has any similar books (they have a big psychology collection) as soon as I have a little free time to digest anything else. It is indeed a problem of inner self-talk. Any spiritual advice would be OK too, as long as it isn't Christian. I don't hate Christians but there's just too much going on there.
posted by bad grammar at 8:00 PM on May 13, 2009


The thing to keep in mind is that all feelings pass. They all ebb and flow. You're not going to be overwhelmed forever; you're just overwhelmed right now.

Moreso if it's finals. When I'm busy and sleep-deprived like I'm wondering whether you might be, and my mind starts going down channels like you describe, I just stop them and say "look, you're overworked and tired. Everything is fine, it just doesn't look like it right now. Now is not the time to analyze yourself or your life. Just hang in there, get more sleep next month, and then you can decide if [you really hate your job, you're truly struggling in your classes, etc.] For now, it's enough just to keep going."
posted by salvia at 12:56 AM on May 14, 2009


A few more comments:

- The MLIS degree exposes you (or should) to a bunch of different things: some practical, some theoretical, some detail-based, some big-picture based. No one's equally good at all of them.

Use the time while you're getting your degree to figure out which ones you enjoy, and which ones you're good at, and to build skills in those areas.

- Treat the stuff you're struggling with (and *lots* of people struggle with cataloging) as a good chance to learn about other areas of library work, but don't stress unduly about it. Your GPA will not matter much at all in hiring (as long as you graduate, anyway).

- Get support from your work:

Even though you're ancillary, they should have some sort of ongoing professional development resources that you could join in on, especially if you take the tack of "I really want to be able to help more than I am." It often won't cost them anything to have one additional person sit in on an existing workshop, for example, that they're already providing for other staff. And someone could definitely provide you with a reading list and other resources about the theory and tools used by the school.

- Competition (at least in the US) for academic library jobs is fierce.

That said, your Ph.D will help set you apart, and there's stuff you can do that will help: as you move through the program, pick projects and skill sets that will fit well with your long-term goals, and build a portfolio you can easily show to prospective employers. Document the stuff you've done at your current job that's applicable. (teaching students how to find resources, creating programs, creating policies or designing practices, managing resources, working with teachers on specific projects, etc.) Doing it as you go along is a lot less painful than doing it later.

Also consider other kinds of schools: I work as a librarian at an independent (private) high school: your degree background and existing library experience would make you a good candidate for a number of positions (and again, in the US, you generally don't need teaching certification for private schools.)

- Building technology skills is increasingly important in the library field - see what you can piece together from personal interests, school projects, and projects for work. Integration of different kinds of tools, or using online Web 2.0 resources to encourage interaction between library users and the collection are big topics right now. The more you can demonstrate skills/ability to learn/willingness to play around with different tools, the better off you'll probably be.
posted by modernhypatia at 6:24 AM on May 15, 2009


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