Is It Ok To Fail In Grad School

I have written before about failure in grad school. Today, I want to write a little more about my opinions on the term “failure”. Today’s topic is, “is it ok to fail in grad school?” The answer is, it depends, of course. I do think that failure is good in grad school and also encouraged. There are many ways in which you can fail in grad school, some that are helpful, and some that are not so helpful. So let us dive into what I think about failure in grad school and why it is a blessing and a curse.

fail grad school

Why is it ok to fail in grad school?

Grad school is all about failing. In fact, you should fail ever day until you eventually get it right. The thing that many people have a hard time with, especially when they start, is you are supposed to fail. You are supposed to find out what works, try different things, and explore the unknown. Research is failing until you eventually get it write. In undergrad or even the first few years of grad school, you’ll be taking courses and doing work that probably has a correct answer to it.

It’s like math, there may be a few methods to get the answer, but you have to do them correctly or you won’t get to that answer. If you don’t do it right, you’ll fail an exam or paper. In research, no one knows the correct way to do stuff, that’s why you are doing experiments to figure out how to do it. You are bound to get it wrong quite a bit.

when it's ok to fail in grad school

When it’s ok to fail in grad school from the start

When you first start you graduate studies, you will be used to the question/answer life that you have learned to love your whole academic career. You’ll have a research question and you want to find the answer. You are programmed to look for a way to get that answer or look for someone who go that answer before. The thing is, your research question is unique and may not have a clear way to et that answer. It is up to you and maybe a select few to find that. This will mean that you are going to fail a ton of experiments trying to get an answer. That is part of the process and it is good for you.

Here’s another reason why failure in grad school is important. I overheard my adviser talking to one of our master’s students the other day. Apparently, the student was getting upset because they were having a problem with the program that was being used for their experiments. They were saying how it was a terrible thing to happen and how they failed. My adviser gave a really good piece of advice to them. He said “it’s good that these things happen because now you know how to fix it. Without having the experience of everything going wrong, how will you know how to handle it later on?” I thought this was perfect. See, if things always go the way you want them to, what happens when everything goes wrong? You won’t know what to do in those situations.

When is it not ok to fail in grad school?

Ok, so all failure is not the same. When you are in grad school, failing experiments, learning from your mistakes, and trying over is a plus. So when is it not ok to fail in grad school? That comes down to your course work and preparing for your qualifying exams. Course work is important. The first two years of grad school will most likely consists of just coursework. Failing these classes is bad and can get you kicked out of the program. The good thing about grad school courses are that they are pretty difficult to fail.

Yes, there are programs out there that are very difficult, and I am speaking on my experience. But, I have had many friends in grad school and they all say the same thing, grad school courses are easier in most cases than undergrad. This has been extremely true, especially with my degree in environmental engineering. I have taken some pretty difficult classes, but they were all in the years as an undergrad.

don't fail the classes in grad school

Don’t fail the coursework

Failing your coursework in grad school can really be hard on you. You need to pass in order to be able to do research later on. This is why it’s imperative to do well in these classes no matter what. The research will be there. If you are in the first two years of a doctorate and you’re prioritizing research over passing classes then you are doing it wrong. Research is important, but wait until you are only doing research. Pass the classes first.

The Qualifying Exam

This is something that is bad to fail, especially if you want to get your PhD. You have to pass the qualifying exam, and man is it tough. It is different for all departments, but if you are curious about it, go read my blog about taking my exam. (link here). It occurs usually after the third semester of your PhD, though it can be later. If you pass this exam, you become a PhD candidate and are welcomed as a researcher.

I know people that have failed this exam. More times than not, people will pass. It’s difficult, but totally doable. If you happen to fail though, you will have another attempt at it before they basically tell you to leave with a master’s. This isn’t all bad because some people start their PhD journey not knowing what they want. If they fail the qualifying exam then they can go on their way and get a job. It’s not bad unless you really want a PhD, then you really need to focus on passing.

learn to fail in grad school

You Didn’t Fail, you Just Learned What Not To Do

I often feel like a failure in grad school. It has taken me quite a long time to be ok with failure and accept that it is part of the process. I have learned so much these past 3.5 years in my doctoral program and I have to thank persistence for that. See, without me failing, I wouldn’t have learned anything. If I got everything right, I would have missed out on the whole learning process that comes with grad school. I tell new students all the time that a PhD is an apprenticeship. you are not here because you know everything. If you did, you would have 50 doctorates, a Nobel Prize, and probably be on Jeopardy. you are here to learn how to do research and learn how to fail until things go right.

Everything should be a learning experience. If an experiment goes wrong, write that down. Don’t repeat what made it fail. Brain storm and see how to do it better. This is what advisers want to see. Yes, they would love for you to get publishable data, but they also want someone that can do research and become an expert in their field. As long as you learn something from every failed attempt, you won’t be considered a failure. Remember, “a smooth sea never made a great sailor”-FDR.

Final Thoughts

It’s finally happening guys, my posts are getting ranked on Google. People from all around the world are reading my posts and I couldn’t be happier. I started this blog to help grad students and I think there are people out there that might be helped because of me. This is exciting. Anyway, I hope you guys are doing well and having a wonderful month. It’s summer so comment with any plans that you have for the next few months. If you have a post that you want me to write about, send me an email at benswaringen@yahoo.com. Heck, send an email saying hello. Also, if you haven’t checked it out yet, go see my blog about grad school memes. Here is a link to that (link).I will see you all in the next one. Peace!

Failing an Exam in College

Failing an exam in college is quite a heartbreaking thing. You studied countless hours only to received a grade that was much less than you hoped. Trust me, I have experienced a ton of grades that started with 4s and 5s lol. I have failed quite a few exams in both undergrad as well as grad school. Today, I am here to discuss how to react, what to do, and how to overcome failing an exam in college. I will discuss how to go about failing an exam in undergrad as well as grad school. They aren’t too different, but the way you deal with it in grad school is different than undergrad.

failing an exam in college

What It feels like to fail an exam in college

For those of of you starting college, or those that have been in it for a while, you’ll eventually get a failing grade. There are a select few that will never experience an F on an exam, and we all envy those people. Failing an exam is like getting kicked in the gut. You might have studied weeks for an exam, gotten to it, and completely forgot everything there was to know. If you aren’t familiar with test anxiety, read about it (here). This can cause you to forget everything and fail an exam. Of course there are other reasons why you failed. Maybe you didn’t study. Shame on you lol but life may have gotten in the way and made it impossible. So, no shame on those people.

When you study for a long time to get a failing grade, it physically and mentally hurts. As I stated, it can feel like you were kicked in the gut. Mentally, your brain will be going to every negative thought in the book. You might have self doubt. The amount of worrying for your future will increase, and anxiety will be very high. If you are on the premed track, you’ll probably be thinking that you aren’t set out to be a doctor. I think the mental effects are the absolute worse. But it will be fine.

What to do first when you get a failing grade on an exam

First thing first, do not blame yourself and do not panic. Failing an exam in college happens all of the time. There are so many reasons why you may have failed that exam. The test may have been unfair. You may not have had enough time to prepare for such a hard exam. Test anxiety kicked in and made you forget what happened. Heck, something may have happened that week that really put you in a bad mental state, one where you probably wouldn’t have passed the exam anyway. Whatever the cause, do not blame yourself. If you are coming to this blog, you are probably finding ways to cope with failure because you usually do well and are an overall good student.

The first thing that you need to do is look over the answers and see where you went wrong. Maybe you got the answers right and the TA marked it wrong. Maybe you just made some silly mistakes and seeing the answers will show you that you were on the right course, just not there. Just take a look at the answer sheet and see what went wrong. If there were mistakes made by the TA, email the professor right away. You might get quite a few points back.

Next, after you saw what went wrong, go over the problem again and really understand how to do the problem. One weird, but actually understandable, think that will happen is you’ll remember how to do those problems later. Years later, I still remember the material on the exams I failed. I also remember how to do those problems still. That’s because I went back and learned. The combination of learning and having a tragic event like failing really solidified those questions in my head. I think it’s a form of Flashbulb Memory.

Moving past failing an exam in college

IU think this may be one of the hardest things to do. Failing an exam in college can be extremely difficult to get over. You will be worrying whether or not you will pass the next exam and I guarantee you will probably be looking at different majors lol. I did that after failing an exam in undergrad. I got a D+, which is technically a failing grade for certain courses. This was a critical tracking course, which meant that I needed a C and nothing lower. A D+ really messed with me.

What I did after getting that grade helped me to move past the feeling of failure. I took a moment, looked at what I did wrong, went over every question, then I went to get ice cream. The first thing to do when moving on is to let it go. You failed an exam. If you did everything in your power to make sure that it was graded fairly then all you can do is move on and tackle to next exam. Do not linger over the fact that that pone exam was bad. Instead, focus on how you can improve and get a higher grade on the next one.

If You Fail an Exam in Undergrad

You are a baby and learning. Unfortunately, your whole existence revolves around passing exams. Failing an exam in undergrad may be detrimental to your GPA and you graduating. My best piece of advice is to actually go to office hours, participate in lectures and everything to do with that class, and I guarantee that you will pass the course, even after failing an exam. DO not give up any hope. Work hard, put in the hours to study and you will be rewarded. Also, be kind to yourself. You may not get straight A’s, but straight A students don’t necessarily make the best employees. I also feel really bad for those that haven’t failed an exam. When the time comes where they do fail something, because they haven’t experienced it before, they’ll have a rougher time with coping with the failure.

Don’t give up hope. Most classes have 3 to 5 exams, so failing one will give you motivation to pass the others. Also, most finals are a lot easier than the first and second exams of the class (TA secret). If you are close to failing the class, stick with it until the final. You’ll have a grade booster then.

failing an exam in college: getting past the failure

If you Fail an Exam in Grad School

So, I have written about whether or not grades matter in grad school. If you want to read about that, here is a link. You probably won’t really deal with failing exams in grad school because most professors will hand out a B as the lowest grade. Colleges are under a ton of pressure to graduate master’s and doctoral students, so they pass pretty much everyone. In grad school, research should be your main focus. If you fail an exam, sure it stinks, but you’ll probably be used to failure so it won’t faze you at all.

If you are concerned with failing an exam in grad school, I have some helpful tips. 1) Take a deep breathe if you do fail one. Go see your professor and go over the exam 2)Forget about it. Go do some research because you will be more remembered for the research you do, the lives you changed, and how you benefit society than passing a stupid test. No one will remember you for passing a class, but they will remember you when you contribute some form of knowledge to the world.

failing an exam in college

In The End

Grades, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter. No one will ask you how well you did on the second exam of your chemistry course. All you really need to do is pass, actually take something away from the class, and move on to the next one. This is true for most everything unless you are going to grad school or a professional school. Good grades are important then, but one failing grade on an exam won’t really affect you too much. If you are in engineering, just graduating will get you an amazing career.

The most important thing is learning something when you fail an exam in college. If you don’t learn anything, then you truly failed. Failing an exam in college is not the end of the world. You may fail multiple times and that is fine. Just learn from the mistakes that occurred and move on. Life is way too short to ruminate over a stupid test.

Final Thoughts

I want to know. How many college exams have you failed? I think I failed like 10 or close to it. I remember the first few that I failed but lost count lol. If it says anything, I failed more times than I wanted and now I am well on my way to receiving a doctorate in engineering. This is happening because I learned from the failed exams and I grew from them. You can too.

If you haven’t already, go and check out my post about the best gifts for grad students. It’s graduation season so I want to help you find the perfect gift for your grad student. Link is right here. I hope you all have a wonderful day and I will see you in the next one. Peace!

How to Deal With Failure in Grad School

I want to start off this blog telling you that I do not believe that there is such thing as failure when you have tried to do something. True failure in grad school comes from not even trying in the first place due to fear of not getting the result you want. People that tell you that they failed an exam, failed a marriage, failed really anything are not actually failing. Ok sorry to be redundant with all of the “failures” lol.

So why did I name this blog “How to Deal With Failure in Grad School”? It’s because most people would rather see that than something like “How I deal With Finding Out a Different Way of Doing Something Because the Results Did Not Turn Out the Way I Planned”. It’s a mouth full isn’t it?

dealing with failure in grad school

You Have to Learn from Failure in Grad School

So let me tell you how I go about dealing with a situation that I was not expecting, or one that I did not like. I simply learn something from it. I have gone through a ton of therapy and have listened to a ridiculous amount of Buddhist talks to change my way of looking at “failures”. They are all learning experiences which means that they aren’t failures at all. Sure, you may have failed an exam, but you learned that the method of studying that you did wasn’t right. Sure, your marriage didn’t go as planned, but you learned that you were not in the right relationship.

Sure, I failed an experiment and managed to spill leaded water all over the place, probably causing me to ingest the same concentrations of lead that were found in Flint, Michigan’s water, but I learned that I need to be more careful when it comes to things like that.

The fact of the matter is you need to learn something from each “failure” that you have. If you haven’t at least learned one thing, than that could be called a failure as well. Listen, grad school will make you feel like everything that you do is a failure. Sure, your experiments didn’t go as planned, but if you pay attention, you would have learned how the experiment didn’t go as planned. You learned what not to do and you won’t make that mistake again. See how you can use each failure in grad school as a learning experience?

failure in grad school

You Have to Try

The only true failure in grad school is when you just don’t try. I tell people all of the time to just try and do something even though they “know for a fact that it will go bad”. The future is completely uncertain and you never know what will happen. I see how my thoughts stop me from even trying something, but I will force myself to do it, and then it turns out it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Many people are just too afraid of the failure process so they don’t even attempt to do what they are so worried they will fail at it. You know what every expert ever did? They failed more than they succeeded. They failed so much until they eventually got it right. They might have been afraid to fail but they went about trying anyway.

One thing that I hear all of the time is “what if I get it wrong?” This is especially true when dealing with grad courses. People are afraid to try new things because they might not get it right the first time. That is true failure. Just not trying because you “know you will fail.” This mindset causes all sorts of problems later and it creates a ton of anxiety, trust me.

As I have touch upon in my blog about doing things that scare you (link here), just trying something, even if its scary, will help you succeed. You will get to a point where failing doesn’t affect you. You’ll be numb to that awkward feeling after failing. But, you have to try it, even if it’s scary.

Overall

By changing your mindset, and I believe this is a major part of cognitive behavioral therapy, you will see that failures do not exist. You you happen to screw up pretty badly, learn at least one thing from it. If you embarrass yourself and call that a failure, laugh about it and make it into a funny memory. Life is way too short to not take risks and worry about failure. Luckily, I am learning a great deal about not being afraid to fail in grad school. I have been told “no” so many times and I have messed up more times than not, and you know what? I learn something each time and I continue on. It is an experience to grow from these experiences. It’s a long process, but my God, it is life changing.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with failure in grad school is hard, I get it. It is, however, essential. The things you are working on and will be working on might be brand new in this world. You might be working on some novel idea that may change history. You think you’ll get everything perfect? Probably not lol. See, the mistakes are where you learn the most and those mistakes might not even be mistakes. I find that when I mess up, something cool comes from it. Changing your mindset about what a failure is is a great way to overcome the fear of it.

I hope you guys understand what I am trying to get across. Don’t be afraid to fail in grad school. Embrace the suck and realize that each “failure” is a great opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. I promise you that changing your mindset about failure in grad school will drastically improve the way you go about experiments and research. Don’t be afraid to fail. I hope you all have a wonderful day and week. Let me know how failure has helped you out and made you a better person. Peace!