Connecting the Dots: Overcoming my Forgotten Self to New Beginnings

This is it. The one blog post to connect what I have learned throughout the contemporary pedagogy course to showcase full understanding and mastery of the subjects taught. But this is not true and in my mind does a disservice to the course itself. A lot of challenging topics and discussions happened in an environment where students of multiple disciplines had varying viewpoints on topics like technology use in the classroom, mindful learning, our authentic teaching self, producing  statements about our teaching and diversity philosophies, and taking a critical look at a few pedagogues. But what does it boil down to? Well, to echo Dr. Nelson point — this weeks readings by Parker Palmer and Dan Edelstein held very insightful and provocative views that gave a sense responsibility to me as a future educator and were very much must reads. As a computer scientist I did connect more with Palmer’s writings on the new professional and emotions of students given my personal scenario, but Edelstein’s writing opened my eyes to a board perspective where the humanities provides a skill set for innovation I would like to see come to computer science education.  Ultimately, these readings came with harsh realizations about academia and really any professional setting that challenges  not only one’s ability to allow themselves to be more human than thoughtless and unemphatic professionals but also innovation and the need for original thinking.

At the beginning of this course, I was a rather bitter and jaded individual because of my recent experiences here at Virginia Tech. Over the last year or so I had fallen into depression with heavy anxiety that I have never before experienced to this level, become an example student who fallen through the administrative cracks where red tape all but covers the way back out, and have been challenged whether or not I belong in this program because of my inability to drop everything else for the sake of research. It is like I had forgotten myself as a person — I became so blinded to what was required of me to progress in my degree I inadvertently became a negative influence upon myself and others. At the time, it is a tremendous understatement to say  was I was not looking forward to this course in general due to conflicting emotions to get through my program where my needs not only as a student but as a person were overlooked. It is startling easy to see the death of one’s personality when stress and burnout take over — and in my department is sometimes worn as a badge of honor because of the research grind (which is quite toxic). And it is sadly expected. To Palmer’s point, the institution at the department level held a distinct lack of empathy and dare I say compassion for those who are struggling. I showed in what the department prioritized — harder qualify process, stricter rules on milestone completion that carried hefty penalties, and claiming there was a lack of rigor throughout the department standards.

So, how does this connect the dots? How have I become better than I was before taking this course? How does it come back to myself as a person? Well, I feel challenged in a new way than ever before. Before it was about getting the degree and contributing something back to the complete knowledge body of computer science. But now, I have seen the challenges and heart aches that not only my colleagues go through but also undergrads (both from my lab and third party interaction) from an instructors point of view. I have noticed it happens to often students in school or have considered higher educations have had a professor discourages them from doing an area of study. The power a professor has as a perceived expert can do real damage to a students confidence and hope of continuing. There is a fine line between legitimate concern a student does not have the ability to proceed versus a hunch often based on factors. My belief is anyone can learn and study whatever they want given enough determination, will power, and effort. My own story holds this true when I converted to a computer science major from a history major in 2012. I want to support students in what they have a passion for and foster innovative learners that will one day surpass me in all areas allowed by human intellect, and I believe this course allowed me the chance to hear the views of many backgrounds and how I could incorporate it in not only my classroom but my pedagogy as well. In a way, the discussions from both engineering and the humanities gave rise to innovation for my courses. Indeed a most thoughtful reflection.

At the start of this course, I had forgotten why I had come to graduate school. I had forgotten what people remembered of me that was described to me as a positive vibrance. But because of the harsh reality of graduate school and my unpreparedness to tackle the coming mental and physical challenges it became easy to fall into a pattern of loose morals by “going through the motions”. But now, I am motivated more than ever to pursue and finish this degree in an effort to bring about a new innovative professional persona that will be used to uphold my core values and provide the flexibility needed to change when required.

To the Amy, Sara, Arash, and the students of the GEDI 2019 I forever hold the deeper reflections that have now become a part of myself through the discussions and readings done. My goal is that my future students will benefit and gain momentum to completing their goals within my classroom from I have learned in these past 14 weeks. To a new beginning.



6 thoughts on “Connecting the Dots: Overcoming my Forgotten Self to New Beginnings

  1. Tim, thank you for this raw and honest reflection. It relates so much to how I feel about graduate school, but also this class. Early on in this semester, I had a breakdown and called my dad. The issues I was having with and in my graduate program made me question whether I belonged in graduate school or not (and if yes, if Virginia Tech was really the place for me or if I should just start again somewhere else). Academia did not seem like what I always thought it was and admired about it. My lasting dream of being a professor at a small liberal arts college providing research opportunities to undergraduates at these schools that don’t normally get them seemed so small in the face of what I was beginning to see as insurmountable issues in higher education. I did not think I could deal with those issues, and if I could not fix those, what did my dream matter? But this class gave me a new perspective. Yes, there are the issues I noticed (and some I had not yet even thought about!)–but I am not the only one who has noticed them. Furthermore, I people have proposed solutions. Working together, we can change academia for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing your story and reflection of this semester with us, Tim. The badge of honor that you mentioned with stress and burnout is real. It’s crazy, stupid to think that there are people and/or departments who expect you to be at that level; otherwise, you’re not doing graduate school “right” or aren’t “working hard enough”. It is unfortunate that these values are held at the institutional level and have become a part of the system. I love what you said about supporting students in “what they have a passion for” and fostering innovative learners”. I think this is what we need to do as educators. Again, thanks so much for sharing.

    Cheers to a new beginning,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim,
    Thanks for posting this very thoughtful and heartfelt piece of writing. The pressure that we manufacture in higher education (as well as in private business and industry) is unhealthy. We create excuses for acting this way, but when you examine them closely they are pretty flimsy. I hope this realization helps you move forward with renewed purpose and a healthy perspective. Keep reading good stuff – like the work you mentioned in your post – and surround yourself with good folks you can keep you grounded in a lifestyle that works. My best to you bud! It’s been a pleasure getting to know you this semester. Hopefully, our paths will cross again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Tim,
    I sincerely appreciate this reflective post and sharing your struggles with graduate life in general. I am glad to hear that this course helped you–not only with the conceptual content–but also because the exposure to the diversity of experience, discipline and world view can be so powerful. Its one of the things I love most about being a part of the GEDI community. Your affirmation that supporting students and their learning on an individual level is so important–and one that will serve you well as you move forward in developing as a scholar and an educator. Continue to process what you have learned and develop your strategies for implementing these lessons learned in your classroom. Now that you’re on the path, you can only follow your curiosity and learn more from here!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tim, thank you for sharing your experiences and struggles as a graduate student. I want to write that there are resources both at the university and in the community at large to help you through you anixeity and depression in your academic endeavors. I know a lot of people use professional consoling, support groups within departments, or just have a listening and understanding mentoring. It takes a village to educate a graduate student!


  6. Tim. Thank you for sharing this post. When I was reading your reflection I felt emotive because I can relate with most of what you have said. In the beginning of the semester, I did not know what to expect from this class. I have always knew I wanted to be a professor, but once I started my masters degree at VT i felt into depression and high levels of anxiety. This course has changed the way i see higher education and what I want for my life as a future faculty member. As you said, now I can see the challenges and heart aches that not only my colleagues go through but also undergrads (both from my lab and third party interaction) from an instructors point of view. “To a new beginning” !


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