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Dealing with Criticism

Hi, I’m Leila! I’m here to share my PhD journey with you today! I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist entering my 4th year as a PhD Candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I study how diet affects the gut microbiome. Specifically, I use machine learning to study how fecal bacteria can be used to identify food intake to advance the field of personalized nutrition. When I’m not in lab or writing, I enjoy spending time with my husband, our 3 cats, rescue PitMix (@clover_the_pitmix), betta fish, boxing, napping, enjoying good food (at home or at the newest restaurant), binge-watching TV and the latest movies, practicing my brush lettering, and tending to my plant collection.

As someone who describes themselves as having a Type A+ personality, it wasn’t surprising when I was diagnosed with anxiety at the start of my PhD program. Being in grad school, we're all smart people and I think with that comes the fear of failure and rejection. We're often perfectionists, so how dare we show any sign of weakness? And I think that's just it, acknowledging you have a mental health issue feels like a weakness. But it's not. We know that 1 in 4 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. It is so clear that we are not alone and that it's not something to hide but rather to embrace. Entering my PhD program, I discovered the courage to openly talk about my anxiety with others. This has not only led me to begin to end the stigma in my personal life and through starting the group @gradsunwind, but also helped me to get tools and resources to help me live with my anxiety. And now, when I feel my anxiety bubbling up, rather than hiding that from those around me, I feel comfortable verbalizing that with them. I've only ever been met with support and I hope that by being open about these things, others who are struggling can realize that they're not alone and that we can help one another. That's also where Grads UNWIND comes in - Grads UNWIND (Understanding Wellness IN Discussions) is a workshop series focused on mental health and self-care during graduate school. Our workshops feature diverse speakers and laid-back conversations about important topics related to wellness and mental health in graduate school. These workshops are crafted by fellow graduate students in Nutritional Sciences, Neuroscience, Kinesiology, and Food Science and Human Nutrition. This makes the discussion of mental health part of the norm, rather than part of a stigma.

While I have many achievements I am proud of, I strive to show others that no one is perfect. From manuscript rejections to failing my first attempt at the qualifying exam, I’m here to remind others that they are not alone. We're in grad school to learn and with that comes making mistakes and receiving feedback for improvement. Whether that feedback is from your advisor, committee, or reviewers, we have endless opportunities to grow. But the fact that we're learning and growing doesn't make receiving criticism any easier. So, here are my tips on how to deal with criticism:

  • When I receive criticism, I start by taking it in, feeling my emotions and acknowledging them.

  • Then, I step away. Depending on how critical it was, this can vary from a few hours to a few days. I talk to others about it and take the time I need to process it and cool down.

  • During this time when I've stepped away, I'll often flip through my "Feel Good" folder - an email folder where I store all the positive things - awards, manuscript acceptances, kind words, anything that brightens my day and reminds me of all I have to be proud of.

  • Then, I come back to the criticism and reflect - was it constructive? Or was the person providing it projecting their own insecurities onto me?

  • Regardless of the case, I ask myself what I can learn from it, big or small. Implement those changes and move on!


We thank Leila for submitting her story! Find her on Instagram (@nutrishinn)

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