2021-01-17 HIGHER ED
Author: Cait Kirby
Read time: 10 minutes

10 songs from my grad school motivation playlist!

At various times throughout my grad school career, and especially over the last year, my motivation has needed serious assistance. When I’ve felt my motivation flagging, I’ve leaned on my grad school playlist, entitled, “You can do it!”

I’m sharing that playlist here so that folks who feel like they are dragging themselves across the finish line might be invigorated by these songs.

  1. “Try everything” by Shakira, from Zootopia. This song embodies the concept of growth mindset – try and fail and try again. Listening to this song makes me feel good about making mistakes and Shakira brings so much power to the song. “Birds don't just fly, they fall down and get up. Nobody learns without getting it wrong. I won't give up No, I won't give in till I reach the end and then I'll start again. No, I won't leave, I want to try everything I want to try even though I could fail.”
  2. “How far I’ll go” by Auliʻi Cravalho, from Moana. This song surfaces some conflict I’ve felt as a woman in STEM, as someone balancing my identity as a chronically ill person, as a person who has never really fit in and still doesn’t really have a place to belong, on top of stereotypes and societal expectations of scientists, teachers, and women. “And the line where the sky meets the sea It calls me and no one knows How far it goes. If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me One day I'll know How far I'll go.” This line also reminds me that there is so much luck to science, and even if I’m doing my best, I need the wind to be in my sails, pushing me forward, which helps me when experiments fail.
  3. “Let it go” by Idina Menzel, from Frozen. Similar to the song from Moana, Frozen surfaces societal expectations of power, emotions, and womanhood, on top of being expected to embody the trope of the positive disabled person by hiding symptoms. “The fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all. It's time to see what I can do, To test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I'm free.” This song makes me feel powerful.
  4. “Confident” by Demi Lovato. This song is an upbeat self-empowerment anthem, repeating over and over again the rhetorical question: “what’s wrong with being confident?” It leaves me feeling confident and hypes me up.
  5. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. This song reminds me that graduate school is a journey. “Always gonna be another mountain, always gonna wanna make it move. Always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”
  6. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. This song emphasizes that small successes have ripple effects and that it takes a lot of fight to get through graduate school. “Like a small boat On the ocean Sending big waves Into motion Like how a single word Can make a heart open I might only have one match But I can make an explosion.”
  7. “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammar. This song reminds me that grad school is hard and failure is constant, but if you keep your head up and wait for the rainbow to come after the rain, you’ll make it through. “Only rainbows after rain, the sun will always come again and it's a circle, circling around again, it comes around again.”
  8. “Go the Distance” cover by Shawn Hook and Kurt Hugo Schneider, from Hercules. This movie is one that I relate to a lot – not feeling a sense of belonging, enduring trials that seem impossible, and searching for a place to call home. This song is particularly important to me as it describes the journey of a grad school project – long and winding – and how you just need to keep your eye on the prize. “And I won't look back, I can go the distance. And I'll stay on track, no I won't accept defeat. It's an uphill slope but I won't lose hope, 'till I go the distance and my journey is complete.”
  9. “The Next Right Thing” by Kristen Bell, from Frozen 2. This song will resonate with anyone who has experienced depression and grief. It reminds me that when I am struggling, I do not need to look far ahead and plan my whole dissertation, but I can just look to the one next task I need to accomplish. This reminder has helped me push through and climb out of difficult situations. “Just do the next right thing. Take a step, step again. It is all that I can to do the next right thing. I won't look too far ahead, it's too much for me to take, but break it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice is one that I can make.”
  10. ”This Is Me” by Keala Settle from The Greatest Showman. (I recognize that there is a lot of controversy with this movie, the disability representation, and the misrepresentation of P.T. Barnum as an ally to disabled folks. Read more here.) I included it on this list because it has been seriously motivational for me, in accepting myself for who I am, in being who I am without apologies, and in disregarding the unrelenting criticism and abuse that graduate school perpetuates under the guise of “training.” “There is nothing I'm not worthy of. When the sharpest words wanna cut me down I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown 'em out. I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I'm meant to be, this is me. Look out 'cause here I come and I'm marching on to the beat I drum. I'm not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.”

Find what motivates you, hypes you up, invigorates you, or makes you feel like you belong. It's the only way I've gotten this far.