Going Dark

A number of students, both graduate and undergraduate, have recently admitted they’ve been avoiding me because they missed one of my course deadlines and are embarrassed to talk to me about it. I’ve come to think of this kind of behavior as “going dark“—basically dropping off the radar in order to avoid detection.

It’s totally understandable, of course. In one of my previous lives as a graduate student, I cultivated an ability to “go dark” that puts the efforts of my current students to shame. In fact, after one lengthy period of non-contact with my dissertation advisor, I only emerged (for the last time) to state that I was quitting the program.

The circumstances behind that are, of course, another story altogether, but I relate this part of it only to make this point—going dark is almost never a good thing. Yes, it’s embarrassing to miss deadlines. It’s uncomfortable not to have made as much progress as you would have liked, because this messes with your sense of who you are as a student or scholar or person. It makes you feel inadequate, somehow.

But here’s the problem of going dark: if you’re out of sight, it’s highly likely you’re out of mind. And if the people you’re avoiding aren’t thinking about you, it’s highly improbable they can do anything to help.  Better to lay your cards on the table and see if, together, you can figure out how to move forward. Things may not be as bad as you think. And even if it turns out that nothing can be done, and you are heading toward certain disaster, that’s a terrible thing to have to do alone.


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