“Am I being paranoid?” This is a question many grad students find themselves asking while in graduate school.
Typically people view feelings of paranoia negatively. However, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled, Paranoid? You Must Be a Grad Student, presents a different perspective. According to Roderick M. Kramer, a professor at Stanford School of Business, “[A] mild case of paranoia might even help you navigate the tricky path to that terminal degree.”
As a professor of organizational behavior, Kramer has created a linear model to “explain the type of social paranoia common to graduate students.” For Kramer, social paranoia is not on par with clinical paranoia; rather, “it’s meant to be almost a playful label to help people remember the consequences of being in these situations.”
Bottom line: Social paranoia can be a good thing.
The self-awareness that is part-and-parcel of paranoia makes one “extra vigilant.” For example, one student in anthropology explained how his paranoia motivated him to do better: “I’ve never presented a project that I haven’t felt like my peers or my faculty would find outstanding because I’m so nervous about being judged harshly,” he said.
Another graduate student describes how she was “constantly curious about whether [she was] being taken seriously.” As a result she says she became “very aware of hemlines, how much my neckline plummets, [and] if I’m wearing too much makeup.” Kramer believes this is positive, because her paranoia ensures she adopts “prudent and adaptive” styles of speech and dress.
It is important for future graduate students to note that, although paranoia can be a good thing, it is not always pleasant. As a result, it is helpful to realize that there are also ways to relieve anxiety and uncertainty in graduate programs. For instance, one graduate student controlled her paranoia by bonding with a fellow student. They helped one another learn how to “gauge when their peers’ criticisms were valid and when they were simply rooted in competition.” In another case a graduate student found a faculty member to mentor her and this made her feel much more confident.
The most important advice this graduate school mentor gave was: “Invest your ego somewhere else and find some support system that’s separate from this program.”
Although social paranoia can be a good thing, make sure you have someone who keeps you attune to reality so you don’t get too paranoid.
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