You may have unreasonably high expectations for your experiences at UCF, particularly if you are new to research and graduate work. You should expect to be challenged intellectually and to work harder in your graduate program than in your undergraduate program. Usually you will do well in your formal courses since you are long accustomed to structured lectures and tests.
But most of you have never experienced "independent learning and exploration," which is a cornerstone of graduate education, and thus you may have little knowledge of the nature of solid research, whether it is library, field, or bench research. You may have never engaged in such a long-term project before and you may become discouraged and tend to procrastinate. There is a reason why Thomas Edison said that genius was “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," since there may be many hours of study before you experience complete success. Especially in the middle of a research project, it may seem as if you will never get done (this is not true, it just seems that way), so it is important that you build a support structure to weather your disappointment so that you do not become discouraged.
Often students tell us that they do not get enough positive reinforcement from their advisers and they hear what sounds like constant criticisms. University faculty members have been trained to think critically and they are evaluating your work with the goal of developing your skills to be equal to professionals in your discipline, since you will be the next generation of scholar in your field. Individual faculty advisers have different personalities and different abilities to encourage, but please find a support network (even if it is not your adviser) to keep you focused and motivated.
Be sure and keep your adviser up to date on your progress and this will help your adviser understand where you are and what problems you may be facing at any given time. Ask your adviser how to communicate with him/her – sometimes they would appreciate a written e-mail detailing your progress to use in reports that they must prepare, sometimes they want oral reports that are succinct or more elaborate, etc. The better you communicate with your adviser, the better your relationship will be and the better the feedback will be. Be prepared when you meet with your adviser and be sure to have the following with you:
- A summary of the current status of your research
- A plan for activities that you will pursue before your next meeting
- Questions that you would like to have your faculty adviser’s input on
About 50%-60% of students in our doctoral programs have considered leaving at one time or another and some do. Many graduate students experience the same issues you do and you are not alone in your experiences. Some students do ultimately leave before they are successful because they had difficulty weathering the setbacks that are a normal part of conducting research, and these students are called ABDs (All But Dissertation).
It is important that you put your work and your study in context and focus on your long-term professional growth and improvement rather than arbitrary expectations. You certainly have grown as a professional since arriving at UCF and when experiencing disappointment, please use this long-term view of your development. Your faculty adviser wants to see you succeed, so it is important to seek out guidance, be truthful in accepting criticism, and use criticism as a road map for improving your professional skills. Your accomplishments will clearly reflect on the quality of the training and education that we have provided.