Top 10%

It seems like every grad student I talk to is in the top 10% of their class. Which is impossible, because, we can’t all be the top 10% – most of us must be in the remaining 90%. I find this kind of confusing, because I know that we all get that. And yet, we still all seem to make these same conclusions – whether it’s about us or others. “So and so won’t have a problem getting an academic job because they’re in the top 10%.”

Of course, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised about this. I’m part of the leading edge of the generation that grew up with trophies for everything. Well, we didn’t quite have them for everything – but it was close. I do remember swim competitions where there were ribbons up to 8th place! I really don’t remember there being many more than eight people every competing in any event.

And now you see articles about schools having 20+ valedictorians. Or  I had a friend who posted pictures of attending graduation ceremonies recently – for a kid finishing grade three! Last year my niece had a whole cap and gown outfit to graduate (graduate, really?) from preschool.

But, as unsurprising as this may be, I think we are all doing each other a disservice when we continue on like this. Grad students generally have inflated egos, when it comes to how smart they are compared to others (and most of this is usually undeserved). And with todays economy (ugh, I hate saying that) and even more so, with how higher education is changing, the types of jobs that may be available when we graduate in the next 1, 2 or more years might not be in academia. Or might not be so interested in the fact that you are in the “top 10%” and more interested in the skills you can actually demonstrate.

So, instead of getting caught up in where you place within your class or how (you think) you compare to your classmates, focus on making sure that when you finish you have skills you can actually show. Skills like the fact that you can actually write a coherent paper. Or that you can program (if you’re a computer scientist). But really, that you’re actually an expert in your area.


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