Spring is the time for graduate students to meet with their supervisors and complete the “Annual Report”, or as I like to call it, the “Annual-Reminder-That-My-Goals-Aren’t-In-Line-With-The-Department’s-Expectations”.
The Annual Report is a grown-up version of the report card, where I tell the university what I’ve “accomplished” (based on the university’s definition of achievement) in the past 12 months, in three categories: publications, dissertation, and professional development. My university (like many) is research focused (as opposed to clinically focused), so the first two categories weight more than the third. There are no grades or gold stars in response to this report. Depending on the year, the Department Head might send me a generic email to remind me that I am in good standing.
When did the email become the Graduate Studies version of a Gold Star?
Truth be told, almost five years into my graduate studies, I have no idea what the department expects from me, but based on my responses on the Annual Report, I missed honour roll. In response to this deficient but necessary process, I wrote a letter to the Graduate Studies Annual Report.
Dear Graduate Studies’ Annual Report,
Thank you for making your yearly cameo in my life, around the time when the weather gets warmer, undergrads slowly (finally!) leave campus, and I allow myself to contemplate about how unproductive I will be over the summer.
Fortunately, you and I never spend too much time together, because the questions you ask of me are not the ones I tried to answer during the year. For instance, you ask me about the number of publications I submitted. I could tell you that one of my manuscript was rejected…not once, but twice. However, I don’t think you would be proud of me, so I will carefully omit this information. I wish I could include the two editorials I wrote for a CPA newsletter, but I cannot since they are not research.
You also ask me about book chapters I published in the past 12 months. I understand that some graduate students work in labs where their supervisor is asked to write and edits books. Consequently, they have the opportunity to publish book chapters. I am not one of those students. So this section will remain empty.
Finally, you ask me about presentations I presented or submitted in the past year. I managed to squeeze some data out of my minuscule sample, so I can add one scientific poster presentation to this section….but its acceptance is pending. Is that of any value to you?
A third of way through, it is obvious that you and I are not on the same page. You evaluate me on criteria that I chose not to value. How can we mend our differences Annual Report? How can I avoid the feeling of inadequacy that your questions create?
Next, you ask me about the progress on my dissertation. I hold back my tears as I write that I have recruited only half of the participants I had planned to have by now. Unfortunately, the multiple choice format does not allow me to explain that I work with a difficult population in a strict setting. There is no room for me to tell you how convincing parents to bring an anxious child to the hospital for one more appointment is tedious and unbearable for them. All I do is check the “incomplete” box and hope that you will understand.
After being reminded for three pages that I did not focus on publications this year, I finally shine when it comes to Professional Development. I report a page worth of workshops and seminars. This year, I learnt about the long-term impact of trauma, the theory and practice of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy, and ethical considerations in private practice. Unfortunately, Annual Report, I heard through the grapevine that you do not care much for PD. I’ve been told that you ask about workshops and seminars simply to be “comprehensive”, not because you believe it is an important aspect of graduate studies in clinical psychology. Is that true? For a fleeting moment, I thought you and I connected.
Annual Report, why don’t you ask me about professional affiliations? Why don’t you ask me about supplementary engagements? I would tell you about everything I accomplished in the past 12 months. If you only had one more page where I could tell you that I am now a certified yoga instructor; that I am working on another treatment study with a psychologist in the community; that I am editor of newsletter for the Canadian Psychological Association; that I published a research review on an popular science blog; I climbed Table Mountain; two students wrote me “thank you” notes for the way I marked their assignment… Sadly, these are negligible details to someone who cares only about publications and data. They are crumbs of a cake.
See you next year,