Jealousy

As a deaf person, particularly as a deaf person that was subject to people putting them down at various episodes of my life, its difficult sometimes to see jealousy. I mean, jealousy that I’ve got a nice house or a nice partner, yeah, thats fairly straightforward, and not really what I’m talking about here: what I’m discussing here is a form of professional jealousy. Some people have a very specific form of  professional jealousy that can be quite difficult to pin down, as the emotions engendered tend to result in them behaving slightly differently to the usual behaviour triggered by straightforward jealousy.

When you work with hearing people, a wide range of them, who are on their own journeys and who may be at different stages in those journeys to you, one problem that you may come across is that they can be jealous of your capabilities. This is particularly the case if you’re achieving on the same level as hearing people, just as well – or better than – them. The thinking may go something along the lines of “my god, look at them. They achieved XYZ, and they’re deaf, and look at me, my ears work, I’ve nothing wrong with me, and they’re better than me”. Sometimes this may not even be this clearly thought out, sometimes its just an unconscious, ugly, angry emotion that they feel when they see you and they don’t quite know how to handle it. It can result in behaviour that is geared, in a very subtle way, sometimes, towards trying to bring YOU down, because if they do that, then they feel better as a result. A lot of negativity, discouragement, anything to get you to be worse than them, to stop you being better than them ‘despite’ your deafness¹. An example might be, when you’re waiting for a specific result, getting all kinds of snide, negative comments instead of hopeful, supportive ones. The difference between constant rephrasings of ‘so many people apply, be prepared to be rejected’ and ‘Good luck! I’m sure you’ll succeed, but have you got a back up plan if you don’t?’ and then not mentioning the backup plan again once you confirm that you have one. You can see the difference.

[Sometimes it can result in even more aggressive, angry behaviour, although within an educational or professional setting, this should certainly be the point where other people (such as Human Resources) are turned to. If you’re at this stage, don’t go with the suggestions in this article, DO get the appropriate authorities involved.]

So… what to do when you’re confronted with this kind of behaviour?

Much depends on how close this person is to you. If they’re just a classmate who you can easily avoid outside of the classroom, then problem solved, just avoid their company and refuse to take the more negative comments on board (which is easy enough, once you understand what’s behind them). Blocking them on social media is another option, if you find that many of their comments are coming through that way, particularly if you find yourself getting angry with them – why waste the effort in being angry? Block them and have done with it (and there are even different levels of blocking, if you’re worried about them seeing that you’ve blocked them or defriended or whatever, some of which won’t be visible to them).

But if they’re someone who you genuinely like, admire, who you’d otherwise like to spend time with, or someone who you have to spend time with for work purposes, regardless of choice, then what? This can be particularly tricky if the jealousy is appearing in someone who seems to swing between the jealousy and admiration. I have a friend like that; she openly admires the work I do, is friendly and wants to spend time with me, but every so often, she comes out with these terribly negative comments. They picked up in intensity before the PhD result came through, which is what first clued me in. I like her, mostly, when she thinks consciously about it, she’s very supportive about my work, she read through my PhD application and made a number of very useful suggestions, for example. Its just these little snide asides. I noticed the other day, that I was starting to unconsciously avoid her, or get a sinking feeling when I saw them coming towards me, which is a shame. So. What to do?

The way I see it, I have a couple of choices:

  1. Talk to her about it. I wouldn’t phrase it as ‘jealousy’, or even in the terms that I’ve used here. Maybe something like ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem terribly happy about XYZ. Do you want to talk about it?’ may be good. This is particularly the case where you don’t think they’re even aware of it, bringing it out into the open like this may well work, particularly if they’re a friend that you think you can talk to on this level. On the other hand, it can spectacularly backfire, so be very very careful if you decide to take this path.
  2. Ignore it and wait for them to get past it. It may be that you don’t feel able to talk to the person on the first level, or it just isn’t possible because of institutional relationship rules (e.g. they’re your supervisor). Gritting teeth and just ploughing through is the tactic here.
  3. It may be that deliberately mentioning things that you struggle with would work. Such as, if you’re struggling with a piece of work or with networking or something. You certainly don’t have to do this; arguably, this is a bad move, as in, you’re not giving them the chance to grow and to account for their own emotions. You’re certainly not responsible for theirs, or anyone else’s personal growth (or lack of it). But if on the other hand, you do a little diplomatic fumbling with something, or show yourself as being NOT the super-capable-super-student that they think you are, it might just make your life a bit easier. And I don’t think anyone would blame you for that. I know I wouldn’t. Along the same lines, taking the time to praise them for things that they do, particularly if they’re doing it better than you, is another good tactic to use.

In my own situation, I think I may well be adopting a combination of 1 and 2. give 2 a chance for a while, and if it continues, move to talking to her about it. But either way, I doubt that this is the last time it will arise. And I do wonder, if sometimes this happens far more than I’d previously realised. I blogged last year about feeling very excluded at a postgraduate meeting, how many people there didn’t speak to me at all. Whats interesting is that those people, over the last year, as I’ve persisted in attending these meetings and other postgraduate events, have split into two groups. One group are those that have made an effort to engage with me on one level or another (e.g. find out what my research is, who I am), even if its only on a very minimal level and they’re keeping it strictly professional. I certainly am not deluded enough to think that everyone should be my friend! The other group are those who have just ignored me. Other than polite hello, goodbye, and so on, they’ve made no effort to talk with me, even when I’ve tried to strike up a conversation. There’s not many in that group (I would say, perhaps 3 or 4 now) but still, it was enough to make me wonder why, when they didn’t really know me at all. This kind of jealousy may well provide an answer to at least one or two people’s behaviour there.

I do think that ultimately, this kind of jealousy is a kind of backhanded compliment. Jealousy – of all kinds – is something that everyone has to learn to deal with, both in other people and in themselves, and in education as well as in the workplace, particularly if you’re suceeding, and doing so better than your hearing colleagues. There are quite a few articles out there about professional jealousy in both education and the wider workplace (which this is a form of). If you find that this article doesn’t quite offer the solution to your situation, then maybe try to adapt what others have suggested. And remember, if the jealousy gets out of hand, get others involved (authorities, not your friends), and document everything you can.

Further information: Jealousy in PhD Cohort / Addressing Envy in Grad School / Overcoming Jealousy in the Workplace / Seven Tips for dealing with a jealous co-worker

¹ And by the way, I do think this problem isn’t unique to deafness; people with other disabilities, or even other factors that can hold them back, can experience the same thing.

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Being a deaf student … and working

The BBC recently published an article entitled “Increase in university students ‘working to fund studies‘”. In short: with increased tuition fees and reduced maintenance loans, more students were seen to be working to fund their studies. The reason for this is fairly clear and is discussed in this article, also from the BBC, “Are we missing the real student loan story?” which discussed the situation that some families find themselves in, where the two parents combined earn more than £42,600, in some cases, only just going over that amount, and being bracketed in with the super rich … meaning their child gets nothing in the way of grant support, and the parents are expected to find up to £5k – which they may not have, particularly if they have multiple children attending university at the same time.

Then there are the adult, mature students, who work to put themselves through university. This is more common at postgraduate level, particularly since any kind of state help stopped being granted for postgraduate study. There was a huge gap in provision between MA and PhD level, with many MA students being left to either choose a loan (which you had to repay to the bank, not Student Finance England), as soon as you finished your studies – not ideal if you were planning to go on to study for a PhD. Although universities and other sorts of funding are now beginning to address that gap, obtaining such funding and grants is still hugely competitive and difficult to find.

So its perhaps no wonder that up to 77% of students are now working, up from 59% the previous year. But where does this leave the deaf student, who often struggles to access the kind of jobs that other students will be doing, that are often of the kind that a deaf person may struggle to do? Things like bartending, waitressing, shop working – all of which depend hugely on communication? Yes, sure, it is illegal to discriminate but to a bar owner, thinking about trying to deliver drinks as fast as possible to a thirsty clientele on a Friday night…? Its a no-brainer. So… what’s the deaf student to do?

I freely admit, I struggle with this myself. In the last two years, I have been studying part time, with the intention of working part time as well to fund living costs and next year’s tuition fees. I have had precisely four jobs in that time (not at the same time I hasten to add), all of them temporary – and which added up to around £1,000 of work, no where near enough to support me, or to pay next year’s tuition fees. At this point I am being supported by family: and I spend far more time looking for work than I really should.

There is also the added issue that, in many ways, you want work that you do at this time to give added value – something that you can point to on your CV, and explain how it gave you experience at something that is relevant when you’re at a job interview in future. I am lucky, in that I have around 10 year’s worth of administrative and office experience behind me, before I started my degree studies, so I do at least have that to call on. I can prove I can hold down a job. In some respects, the four jobs I have held will do exactly that: I have teaching experience now, that will look fantastic on my CV for when I apply for PhD funding, and I have research experience – both voluntary and paid – and paid social media experience. But not every student can gain this kind of work – and more to the point, not every student can find work that can give added value to their field: its hard to see how shop keeping might give added value to, say, a physics degree. So that’s where you have to think outside of the box, and think about skills, rather than specifics. For example: you could, somewhat laughingly, refer to how you used physics spatial theory to make a display of something in a shop (and no, I am not in the field of physics. Does it show?). You can refer to a difficult client from a shop when you need to give an example of conflict resolution. You can refer to decorating a bar for christmas, for an example of group work or leadership. Soft skills, rather than hard ones. Your career service should be able to help you more with these if you find them difficult.

The other thing to try is to see if your university has a student’s employment agency. Some really good, interesting jobs can be available through them, although, often, non students are right in there and competing with students as well (which I feel is a little unfair). The work I did, transporting ballot boxes on the night of the 2015 General Election, which turned out to be one of the more interesting nights I’d spent in a while, was found through an agency like that. I only got paid around £25 for the night, but it was the experience, rather than the money, in that case – and that’s another thing to remember – that sometimes, you get paid in experience, rather than cold hard cash. Don’t carry that too far though!

You may also need to think in terms of multiple roles. A (hearing) friend of mine actually held down 3 jobs, all at the same time – working in a bar at weekends, in the student union shop during the week, and as a paid student blogger, which gained her credits for the career that she wanted to go into (journalism), as well as voluntarily working on the student rag. The last two were around 5-10 hours a month between them, but they made a big difference to her CV – the soft skills side of things – while the first two helped pay her rent.

Finally, whatever you do, do not allow the finances to interfere with your studies. That is far easier said than done, I do know. But if you find that working is taking so much out of you that you’re not able to give as much to your studies as you would like, if your marks are going down as a result, then find help. Your student’s union may have some kind of finances adviser who may be able to suggest sources of additional finance (many universities have hardship funds, for example) and may also be able to look at your current financial situation, see if they can make your pennies stretch further. You can play a big role in that, in learning to shop, cook and eat cheaply, for example.

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Are you a deaf student? What have you found that works for you? How do you balance the demands of work and study? If you feel like writing for the DeafStudentUK blog, please, do get in touch – deafstudentuk at gmail dot com is the address. I look forward to hearing from you!!

Organisation as a postgrad student

OrganisationIt is traditionally said that the step from year 1 to year 2, as an undergraduate, is more difficult than the step from 2 to 3. Likewise, the step from undergrad to postgrad level of studying. This can be for various reasons. Some find the increased intellectual demands difficult; or that it requires a way of thinking that they didn’t really grasp at undergrad level (e.g. critical thinking). Sometime, however, it can be to do with organisation and management.

In many ways, life as an undergrad is prescriptive. Assignments are laid out for you, periodically, You are told, more or less, perhaps a bit less than you were at school, what is required from you, and varying levels of assistance provided. As you progress through university, this clear guidance of what is required, and assistance, is slowly withdrawn. In your first year, an assigment might come with a title, a work sheet dictating what needs to be done, what your aims are, and what you need to do to achieve specific grades (for those who’ve not studied at this level, this doesn’t mean that they’re given the answer, more that they are told generically what is expected for a first class answer. For example, it might include critical questioning, clearly formulated, understandable English with good grammar, good referencing in the corerct style, etc.). By your third year, you may only be given an essay title and perhaps a few comments about it.

At postgrad level, this process of withdrawing continues. As a humanities student, I’ve found that I’m not having my essay titles dictated to me any more. Instead, the onus is on ME to come up with a title, within the broader overview of the module as a whole. It means that the students not only get to work on what they want to work on, but also that they get to develop key skills, such as being able to identify areas that can be studied properly within the time and word allowance, as well as appropriateness. These were initially developed at undergrad level in the dissertation and will be enhanced further in the MA dissertation – which means someone from this level of working will be able to examine an idea, a concept, decide how far they want to delve into it, and know, from this experience, how much work is required, and how many words are required for a report on the subject – key skills for a researcher.

At the same time, however, the actual number of assignments go down. In your first year as an undergraduate, you may complete around 18 assignments, not including the exams, spread out over the course of the year. In my final year as an undergrad I completed 6 essays of varying lengths, 4 exams and one dissertation of 10,000 words. At MA Level, I have done 1 short essay (2,500 words), 2 projects (5,000 words), and one exam this year (although, granted, I am doing this part time – if I was full time, I would have done 3 short essays, 4 projects, one exam, and one dissertation of 20,000 words). The timing of these is further apart – If I had been studying full time, the short essays would have been due in before Christmas, two projects in the first week of January, the exam in the last week of April and the second project in the first week of May, and the dissertation in mid-July. This doesn’t mean that the MA student lives the life of Riley, punctuated by periods of sheer terror as they burn the midnight oil (although it can mean that too). What it means is that there is an expectation that the MA student is better able to balance their own workload, plan ahead, and pace themselves through the semester.

And this is where many students struggle.

For those returning to MA study after years in the workplace, they may not have a problem. I didn’t start to struggle until the last few weeks, and then, at a very specific level (which I’ll come onto in a moment). But for those going straight to postgrad level from being undergrads, then they may find that their level of organisation & management of their working, studying hours, isn’t quite enough. Deaf students may well struggle with this kind of management for an additional reason: hearing students can overhear conversations – whether between other students or other staff – about organisation and this can trigger thoughts about their own practices. Unless this kind of organisation is explicity covered in a seminar or something similar by a member of staff, or the student themselves approaches someone to ask them what they do, then ideas of how to organise themselves can pass them by.

So, what to do?

Most people will have a to-do list – this can be electronic, or like mine, it can be a notepad and pen. Every day, I write down what I need to do that day, numbered 1 to whatever, with the number ringed, and as they get done, I scribble the number out (which is most satisfying!). So far, so good. Some people may even incorporate the next level of management, a weekly planner, which works alongside the diary, where they write down everything that has to be done that week, perhaps as part of bigger projects, and from that weekly planner, they build their daily to-do list.

I do both of these – in fact, the picture above is mine, for this week – and you can see that it’s divided into sections – uni work, other work (right now, job search – I need a part time job!), and stuff that needs to be done around the house. At the bottom is a small table of things that need to be done every day. Emails need to be replied to, the washing up needs to be done, and so on. Overly meticulous? Perhaps. But it does ensure that these things are done, and for a long time, it worked for me.

Recently, however, I became aware that these two levels were no longer sufficient, that I needed to think about a third level of organisation. I was reading 5 ways to detox your desk (and mind), and while I’m pretty good with number one (clean desk!), number two made me sit up and pay attention. It refers to the Inventory, basically a sort of meta descriptive of all the various projects that are going on. Let’s take where I am now – trying to pull together a PhD proposal. At the back of my mind I’m juggling various things, including ideas and information for things that actually, I won’t be exploring for several weeks yet – at least. At present I am solidly engaged in the literature review, trying to identify themes and concepts within the literature to do with my subject. Every week I’ve been writing “Literature review” or “book assessment” on my weekly to do list, and its never getting crossed off – because its too big, too overarching. Which is pretty demoralising. Its not possible to view the overall project from within the weekly management tool, and in trying to do so, I was setting myself up for failure. What I needed to do was to break it down, and only list the thing within ‘Lit Review’ that I could get done within that week, whether it was reading a book or an article, or whatever. This level of organisation is particularly useful for when you have different projects on the go – so in one day, you may need to switch from doing a lit review to doing research for a local project through to writing an article on something to preparing a conference paper – all very different projects where you can be ‘at’ different points in each project at one point in time.

So this morning I’ve been putting together that third layer, writing out my inventory. and the key, of course, the real key, is to make sure you keep working with each of these three levels – at the beginning of the week, evaluating what needs to be done from the Inventory, from the diary, and creating a weekly overview, then from that, every day, doing a daily to do list. If that is done, slowly but surely, the big projects come together, almost like magic, almost without you looking. And what you’ll find is that this, once learned, is a key life skill – with applications far beyond university and study. Every successful person does this – they may do it in different ways, with different tools, with different levels of complexity, but what they all have in common is that they have developed their own way of working that suits THEM.

How do you organise yourself? Do you use pen and paper, or do you prefer dedicated tools and apps via technology? Share what works for you! Either email me deafstudentuk at gmail dot com or grab me on twitter @deafstudentuk – lets get a conversation on this started today!