ashely ryanWhen I was in the third year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo, I received a paper back from a professor with a low grade and the word lazy written in large, capital, red letters across every page. This took me by surprise because I was usually an 80s-90s type student.  

After receiving the paper, I felt stupid and bad about myself. In context, it was worse that this situation was happening at the end of my third year since I was just gearing up to apply to law schools and graduate programs. I really felt like a mark like this would throw my whole future into jeopardy.  

I thought about it for weeks. Academics has always been a huge part of my identity and one of the things I felt good at. This made me feel like I was completely wrong.   

The turning point for me was when I had a conversation with a classmate who was having similar problems with grades in the course. It made me realize that other students were experiencing similar issues with failure and harsh critiques. At least I was not alone.  

The next time around I tried harder and received better grades than the one before without the writing across the page. They still were not the grades I was hoping for, but they were an improvement.   

I learned that sometimes people in life are going to criticize your work, sometimes in the harshest of ways. It does not mean you are dumb or must throw away your goals. It means you should extract any valuable information from the situation and move forward to the next task.   

Looking back at it now as a recently published PhD student, I can say that that one paper grade did not have a negative impact on my long-term future. That might be the takeaway point. One grade or course most likely will not ruin your life long-term, even though it sucks in the moment. 

- Ashley Ryan, Wellness Director with Graduate Student Association    


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