What I Learned in Year One: A Bitter, Angry, and Shameful Adjustment Period

By Jamila Kareem 

When I opened my laptop to begin this post, I had no idea what I wanted to share. In all honesty, I’ve tried to put year one of the doctoral program out of my mind. It wasn’t that bad. It kind of reminds me of starting a new diet regimen. The first few months involve lots of bitterness and anger and shame with a few moments of celebration, when you start to think “I can do this.” Eventually, you adjust. I adjusted. I had to, or I would have diminished academically, psychologically, emotionally, and socially.

For me, adjusting meant coming to terms with my perfectionism. I found myself surrounded by people, peers, whose talents exceeded mine in many ways. I became more aware of my blackness and my otherness in those moments and wondered if those aspects would keep me from being as perfect as them. Adjusting meant squashing that nonsense, because there would be many many (many many many many) more psychological and emotional battles to fight. Adjusting in year one, meant choosing which battles I wanted to fight and which I needed to learn from. Socially, I adjusted by becoming somewhat vulnerable and opening myself up to new relationships. Even as a lifelong proud, private, and protective introvert, I know that the climb out of this Ph.D. crypt would have been a lot colder and graver.1-jamila-kareem-pic

For me, adjusting meant admitting that there are a lot of things I don’t know and that has nothing to do with my intelligence. Year one was a unique time to look for all of the opportunities to learn outside of class, outside of the department, and even outside of the university. These experiences help me push through the bitterness and anger and shame. That isn’t to say that those feelings completed dissipated, but as I adjusted to the Ph.D. regimen in year one, I embraced my otherness in ways I hadn’t been required to previously. Now, I can push this out of my mind again.

Jamila Kareem is a doctoral candidate in her fourth year of the PhD program.


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