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Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the attitudes, skills, and behaviors that are associated with personal resilience.
  • Learn about the advantages of resilience in overcoming obstacles and adversity in reaching your academic and career goals.


“I just get broken down. My will is broken down. Why am I putting myself through this?”

“Frankly speaking, sometimes I find it’s hard to keep going … I just need to push through.”

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the process of adapting well when faced with stress, trauma, adversity, or threat. Resilience skills involve behaviors, thoughts, and actions that you can learn that enable you to be prepared for, bounce back from, and regain your balance after any setbacks you may encounter.1 Another way to define resilience is the set of processes and mechanisms that contribute to a good outcome despite adverse circumstances.2

Therefore, the purpose of building resilience is to fortify yourself with coping tools and supports that will serve you for the long-term. Expanding your resilience assets will help you sustain your interest, motivation, and success in pursuing your goals and fulfilling your passions.

CareerWISE is a resource that is designed to assist you in strengthening the knowledge, thoughts, and behaviors that comprise resilience. The CareerWISE educational materials are designed to emphasize the resilience skills that best prepare you to flourish in graduate school and work through the challenges that crop up so that you can reach the career goals you have set.

Characteristics of Resilience

Resilient individuals show an active pattern of coping with stressful circumstances. The personal strengths, skills and behaviors that characterize resilience include the following:3,4,5

  • making and carrying out realistic plans
  • demonstrating strong communication and problem-solving skills
  • regulating emotions effectively
  • exercising self-control and resourcefulness
  • holding a positive view of self and one’s abilities
  • building meaningful and supportive relationships
  • caring for oneself during times of stress

How you think is also related to resilience. Some thoughts promote resiliency, whereas others weaken your resiliency in the face of adversity.

Some examples of resilience-promoting thoughts:

  • “This is hard, but I can get through it.”
  • “I will feel great about myself once this is all over.”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  • “This is a learning process.”

Some examples of resilience-weakening thoughts:

  • “Why did I put myself through this?”
  • “If I can’t do things perfectly, I will just quit.”
  • “If this is so difficult for me, maybe I don’t belong here.”


Choose the best answer to fill in the blank. A resilient person _________:

The best answer is D. While resilient individuals maintain positive outlooks and view themselves and their abilities positively, they still can see challenges for what they are: challenges. Answer A is therefore not the best answer. Answers B and D reflect an aggressive or oppositional orientation to problem-solving, which may not always be productive. They may also further hurt the individual, which can decrease resiliency. The best answer is D—a resilient person knows how to regulate him or herself, and draws upon the appropriate resources to overcome challenges.


Hardiness describes resilience as a set of three attitudes: commitment, control, and challenge (the “Three C’s”).6,7 Think of these attitudes as learned personality styles.

COMMITMENT refers to the attitude of being dedicated to and deeply involved in the different facets of your life.

CONTROL reflects your desire to have an influence on the outcomes going on around you, no matter how difficult.

CHALLENGE epitomizes an expectation that life is capricious, that change will stimulate personal growth, and that you will appraise potentially stressful situations as exciting and stimulating rather than threatening.

The attitudes of hardiness make it easier for you to convert your stresses into advantages and turn potential disasters into opportunities for personal growth 7,8 Learning from and finding meaning in challenges you encounter can facilitate your growth in creativity, wisdom, and fulfillment.9

Reflections: Hardy Responses

Read over the following scenarios. Pick YOUR response, not what you think is the “right” hardy response.

The last time that an experiment went differently than you predicted, did you:

a. Snap at your labmate and stomp out of the building

b. Become intrigued by the result, and looked for an opportunity to learn something new

c. Begrudgingly start over and this time work alone

If you find that you are not getting the support you need from your advisor would you:

a. Accept the situation as it is, even if you encounter delays in your progress toward graduation. After all, no one is perfect.

b. Feel terrible and helpless

c. Find a way to get the support you need, either by approaching your advisor directly, by switching to another advisor, or by finding an informal mentor

Your labmate has endless annoying habits, but none of them serious enough to merit a formal complaint. However, each day is filled with humorless jokes, silly requests, and his aloof attitude. You:

a. Learn to tolerate these frustrating habits since it’s not seriously affecting your work

b. Fixate on these things and become increasingly more annoyed

c. Confront him on his annoying personality

You have been struggling a lot to get your thesis done. Your advisor broke it to you that you may want to consider just completing your master's degree in chemistry, as you may not have what it takes to be a PhD candidate. You:

a. Accept the criticism and think, "Well, if I just do a master's, I can be out of school next year."

b. Continue to work diligently toward completing your thesis and know that this is only a short-term milestone; you are committed to staying on the PhD course

c. Wonder if you’re even in the right field

The hardy responses are:

1) b; 2) c; 3) a; 4) b

You may have found that your first inclination is not the hardy response. This is often about an impulsive, emotional way of responding to stressors.

The good thing is that hardiness can be learned. It’s about reflecting on situations thoughtfully. Though you may have an initial panic reaction, you can learn how to calm yourself down and think about the situation more in-depth.

The Importance of Resilience

Stress-provoking situations are part of life and definitely part of graduate school. Some situations are highly stressful or last a long time. Exposure to highly stressful life events can have long-term effects on health and adjustment.

Although encountering many stressful situations is universal, individuals differ markedly in the way they experience and cope with them. Persons with resilience skills are more effective in managing these experiences with little or no impact on their daily functioning.10

Conversely, being less hardy or resilient increases your vulnerability to stress and illness and interferes with your motivation and success. For example, those with low resilience are more likely to:

  • report having less control over stress
  • report that stress has a negative impact on their academic work
  • blame problems on poor personal abilities
  • give up on their goals

Resilience counts

Resilience is a central protective resource and is actually more important than the absence of risk factors in healthy adjustment to life stresses.2The protective resources you build now are activated when you encounter stressful situations and significant disruptions in the future.

Resilience is associated with multiple benefits.3,11For example, people who are resilient:

  • are less easily threatened or disrupted by painful experiences and are therefore less vulnerable
  • are more grounded and self-assured of their place in the social world
  • experience improved physical and mental health and performance
  • try harder and persist in the face of a challenge

Reflections: Individual, family, and social settings that encourage resilience

Review the following characteristics. Do these describe YOU and/or your FAMILY or CLOSE LOVED ONES, or the PEOPLE IN YOUR SOCIAL/ACADEMIC SETTINGS?


Feeling confident that you can do the things that are important to you

Feeling good about yourself

Strong personal values

Sense of humor


Possess strategies to deal with stress

Have a balanced perspective on your experience

Courage to do what is right in the face of challenges


Where you find your strengths can be an important reflection of where you also find your weaknesses.

If you have many of these characteristics but find that your academic setting does not possess or encourage these things, you should have strategies to deal with those. If you find that some of these characteristics are plentiful in your social circles, but you feel a bit short on them, maybe hanging out with your friends more can help re-inspire you.

You want to stay closely connected with people and situations that encourage resilient responses to difficult circumstances. You also want to protect your strong attributes and not allow environmental obstacles to dampen your drive.

CareerWISE Point on Resilience

Resilience is thought to be something that is developed over time, rather than something you are born with. Resilience is not in your genes, running through your blood, or something that the doctor can prescribe. It’s a perspective that develops in the face of adversity, a constellation of attitudes and skills that can be learned and practiced.

People who have had to overcome challenges are usually better equipped to handle future ones. That’s another way of saying that practice in being resilient helps!

Resilience is neither an extraordinary coping ability nor an inability to experience pain or loss.10Psychological scientists are now discovering that resilience is a natural, common (although sometimes untapped) inner human ability to thrive in spite of setbacks.

Building a repertoire of skills that comprise resilience can help to protect you against excessive stress, get through anything, and come out even better on the other side. CareerWISE is designed to help you do just that in the realm of your graduate and career progress.

CareerWISE Tip on Tapping Into Your Inner Resilience

When graduate school seems dismal and discouraging, remember that you can turn to your inner strength. Although it may be easier said than done, appreciate the hurdles you encounter for allowing you to discover yourself as a resilient, resourceful, hardy person.


  1. American Psychological Association. The road to resilience. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved October 11, 2008, from
  2. Hjemdal, O., Friborg, O., Stiles, T. C., Rosenvinge, J. H., & Martinussen, M. (2006). Resilience predicting psychiatric symptoms: A prospective study of protective factors and their role in adjustment to stressful life events. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 194-201. doi:10.1002/cpp.488
  3. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5
  4. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  5. Savickas, M. (2004). Toward a taxonomy of human strengths. In W. B.Walsh (Ed.), Counseling psychology and optimal human functioning (pp. 141-155). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  6. Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1-11. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.37.1.1
  7. Maddi, S. R. (2006). Hardiness: The courage to grow from stresses. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 160-168. doi:10.1080/17439760600619609
  8. Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59, 20-28. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.59.1.20
  9. Niiya, Y., Crocker, J., & Bartmess, E. N. (2004). From vulnerability to resilience: Learning orientations buffer contingent self-esteem from failure. Psychological Science, 15, 801-805. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00759.x
  10. Mancini, A. D., & Bonanno, G. A. (2006). Resilience in the face of potential trauma: Clinical practices and illustrations. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 971-985. doi:10.1002/jclp.20283
  11. Smith, E. J. (2006). The strength-based counseling model. The Counseling Psychologist, 34, 13-79. doi:10.1177/0011000005277018

How Do You Build Resiliency?
The importance of having a number of things in your life that bring you joy and satisfaction.

Gaining Strength from Adversity
Underscores the challenges that come from being the only woman in an academic department and gives suggestions on how to gain confidence and be assertive in these situations.

Working with Intelligent People Across Cultures Makes It All Worth While
Satisfaction comes from interacting with intelligent people across cultures.

A Virtual Support System (Long Distance)
The importance of nurturing relationships outside of academia.

The Opportunity to be a Jack of All Trades
The opportunity for freedom, growth, and collaboration as a faculty member.

Developing a Scientific Identity in an Advisor's Shadow
Challenges faced with establishing yourself as an independent researcher separate from an influential advisor.

The Stress of the Last Year
Advice for balancing research and fun in graduate school.

Proactive Approach and Adapting Environments
How to adapt experimental methods to match a lifestyle.

Thwarting Thoughts of Quitting
The importance of goal setting and using others' experiences to make strong choices about your own path.


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