Saturday, September 14, 2013

Insecurity and the Classroom - Don't Doubt Yourself

Have you ever felt that everyone else must just be so much smarter because they made such intelligent sounding comments in the class?

I walked into a class last week and it seemed to me that several students in the class were very comfortably contributing to the class conversation. They sounded so intelligent. Wow, I had not thought of that concept, I thought in reaction to their statements. I was on the verge of doubting my knowledge and intelligence. But, I snapped myself out of it and decided to step away from the psychological game. I decided to appreciate the other students' statements and comments, but to focus instead on what my thoughts and responses were to the discussion.

It's unproductive and unnecessary to compare knowledge with students who speak well in class. I have experienced this situation many times and found that no matter how much I attempted to doubt myself, my grades ultimately were as good as I wanted them to be.

In another writer's blog post online entitled "An Open Letter to My Fellow Insecure College Students", I found a great description of one student's experience in feeling insecure in the classroom. Here's an excerpt from the post:

I looked around the room, and saw the concentrated ease-filled faces of my peers as they nodded at the professor with empathy in their contemplation. “Has anyone ever been to Poland?’ He asked the class. The lecture was now steered towards the direction of Eastern Europe. The petite girl next to me with purple streaks in her hair nodded as she shared her experience, “Oh yes, It’s a beautiful country. I feel I didn’t completely understand the influence that early 20th century Soviet Marxist ideologies had on the country until I encountered it myself in person visiting Krakow last summer.”
A stern-faced boy with a buzz cut a fraternity sweatshirt raised his hand. “But let’s be honest today in modern Poland post 1989 communists barely influence the politics, economics, or even the society within the country.”
As, Buzz cut and Purple Hair began their debate quoting the Communist Manifesto, I pondered to myself. I knew absolutely nothing about Poland. I knew nothing about communism other than it was bad and Russian from my 8th grade civics class. I didn’t know about the Cuban missile crisis. My mind’s self-pitying stream of thoughts was drowning itself in all it didn’t know. I barely had any notes written. How did I even get into this university? I was now divulged into a realm of insecurity. Maybe I was just some lucky idiot, who by some random streak of luck was admitted.

Some folks are just more outspoken, appear confident, and are just more talkative. As stated later in the blog post, another student reached out to her and told her not to feel intimidated, and that the class discussions were just "all B.S.". To be fair, I wouldn't say that class discussion is 100% B.S. ;)

Students do receive some credit just for participating in class. Professors encourage discussion to spark class participation and to hear responses, or to see whether students are even still awake in class. Professors may just have allotted some required class time for students to talk about anything related to the course.

Nonetheless, like the writer of the blog post I cited above, I don't think it really matters much. If you have already been though undergraduate school, it's basically the same experience. What students say in class is a small fraction of the grade compared to what professors will expect from you in writing, and your exam scores tend to matter much more.

Sometimes we really do just have different frames of reference. For a variety of reasons, we don't come from identical knowledge foundations. However, what matters is what you are learning in class, and where this leads you in exploring additional themes of interest -- to you.

If you have ever felt this way, it's so important to remember :  You were admitted into this graduate program for a reason. You succeeded in your past degree in order to be here, and you are smart and obviously capable.  I wouldn't say in this case that "talk is cheap", but speaking in class is just a smaller part of the overall grade. So many other factors make you who you are as an intelligent and capable student.

(photo credit: via

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