Surviving Praise and Criticism: Doctoral Student Encouragement

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

By Jessica Harrington, Director

The long road to the PhD is filled with constant feedback. At times it may be wonderful and inspiring, and other times, it may be harsh or critical. Below are some tips to navigate the feedback loop in a balanced way.

  1. Remember this: Praise and criticism are only two ends of a long spectrum of feedback. In the middle is room for growth and change.
  2. Communication style matters. Talk with your advisor about your communication style and theirs. Regarding performance, do you prefer feedback in person or emailed? When it comes to your research, how would you prefer to receive encouragement or correction?
  3. Get curious and ask questions! Ask for clarification (you may need to take a deep breath first if the moment is intense.). Repeat back what you hear the other person saying in a non-defensive way. If the response strikes your emotions in a negative way, ask for a break or if you could have time to process the issue.
  4. You are you; you are not your feedback. It can be difficult to separate ourselves from our work. Author Tara Mohr has some excellent advice about ways to unhook from praise and criticism.
  5. Talk with your peers. Identify community support and learn ways other doctoral students navigate feedback. In addition to support from JHSPH peers, consider visiting
  6. You always possess the gift of response. Options for responding to feedback include gratitude, openness, engagement, as well as bitterness, resentment, and disengagement. Sometimes, you may need to disengage before re-engaging. It’s also great to vent and let out resentment and bitterness. Just remember, you always have a choice. Remember
  7. You can handle this. Enough said.

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