Nothing is predestined: The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.
– Ralph Blum

Yesterday’s 30 Days of Joy Challenge asked me to “Finish this sentence five times: ‘I am capable of . . .’ Now get on with your day and show us what you can do!”


As my summer starts to wrap up, the reality of starting a PhD program is beginning to hit me, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t freaking out just a bit. Getting a PhD and going down this road is exactly what I’ve wanted since I was an undergrad and I know that I can do it, but I’m also allowed to stress out about my future.

In the past when I’ve needed to get my life going on a certain path, I’ve sent myself postcards as a reminder of what my current and future goals are. I sent one after finishing Team in Training about getting an internship and applying to grad school, then I sent one from London about what I needed to accomplish in my second year of my MA program and about the PhD application process.

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I was planning on doing that again, but instead in the form of a pep-talk for my future self. I know that I am capable of accomplishing all of my goals as a PhD student, but I also know that I might need a pep-talk every now and then. Yesterday’s task is a perfect reason for me to write that note before I get too bogged down in orientation. I think this time I’ll post it on the blog, instead of (or perhaps in addition to) sending a postcard.

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Dear Kate,

First off, congratulations on everything that you’ve accomplished so far — you took a big risk and moved across the country, you ran a marathon, you got your master’s degree, you have your own house, and more. How exciting that you’re about to start your first year of course work as a PhD student and this is something that you have been thinking and dreaming about since you were 20!

That being said, I know it’s not going to be easy. You’re probably going to experience a whole range of emotions, including being overwhelmed, stressed, nervous, maybe even “stupid” or wonder if you were crazy to pursue this degree. All those feelings are normal, just as long as you don’t let them take you over. Just remember that you felt the same way at the beginning of your master’s program and after the first couple quarters, you found your rhythm. It’s all part of the learning curve. Once you reach the top of that intimidating learning curve, then everything after should feel infinitely easier and you’ll be ready to tackle the future challenges. Also, if you start to doubt yourself as a scholar think about how far you’ve come in the past two years. I know you can do this! If it comes too easily, then you’re not being challenged enough and you want to earn your degree.

Some other advice? Reach out an ask for help when you need it. Make as many professional connections as you can. Seek out a mentor, or a few. Take risks, challenges, and do things that scare you — they usually end up being the most rewarding experiences.

When it comes to life outside of school, don’t give it up! While school is obviously your main priority, don’t forgot about your friends, family, social life, and healthy living interests. Taking an hour (or a few) a day to exercise is not being irresponsible, it’s making you healthier and providing you with a clear head to do your school work. Taking the time to plan out healthy meals and stock your fridge with fresh fruits & veggies will make you feel clean and healthy (and prevent you from gaining weight). You don’t want to live in a grad school bubble, so make time on a regular basis to go out with local friends, call up your long distance friends, or send out that e-mail that you’ve been meaning to send. You are capable of balancing school with all the other aspects of your life and you will be so much happier if you don’t give them up.

I think that’s enough advice to dole out for now. So get out there, make some new friends, learn a lot, and enjoy your first year as a PhD student!



Okay, so I cheated a bit and didn’t follow the instructions exactly. But by writing this letter, I am already acknowledging that “I am capable of” succeeding at this program. What advice did I leave out that I should add?

Question(s) – What advice did I leave out that I should add? AND What are you capable of doing that you might need to be reminded of some days?

4 Comments on A Letter to a Future PhD Student

  1. I need to remind myself that I am capable of GETTING INTO a PhD program. I know I can do it, there should be no room for doubt. Its scary though when EVERYONE is talking about how big of a crap shot it is to get into programs. I hate the uncertainty.

    I read something that said something to the effect of “it shouldn’t be I think I can” or “I want to” but “I’m going to.” So that’s what I’m trying to work on! I am going to get into a PhD program.

    • Yes you are! If you want to get into a program, then you will do whatever it takes to make that happen and it’ll all work out.

      I don’t think it’s necessary a crap shot to get into a program. As long as you’re looking for a program with scholars that specifically match your research interests and you write an articulate statement of purpose that demonstrates to them why it is critical that you are in THEIR program (and no one elses) then they should let you in. Funding is where things get tricky, but even that will work itself out in the end.

      Are there any conferences for your field that you can attend? The fact that I was able to go to the American Society for Theatre Research conference last november was so beneficial! It allowed me to meet the heads of different schools and introduce myself. It also helped me get a better sense of what the programs were like and how their raised their students. Try and do something like that if you can. If not, then you should definitely e-mail or better yet, visit the schools where you are wanting to go.

      You will get into a program. šŸ™‚ If you need any help/guidance/advice, just let me know!

  2. I love the letter!! I think it’s a great letter for you to modify for anyone who ever goes into a Masters or PHD program. I know you can do it. You are more than capable! šŸ™‚ And I’ll be able to say my BFF is a Dr!

    • Thanks! I realized that last year I gave one of the incoming MA students advice that I really should have given myself, so this time I wanted to give myself advice before my head becomes overwhelmed. Maybe I’ll even print this out and frame it. So it’s there to remind me of what I should be doing. šŸ™‚

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