Piled Higher and Deeper

September 7, 2007 at 3:43 am (grad school, random thoughts)

I haven’t been able to think of anything clever or note-worthy to write lately, and I think its because my brain is going through a total melt down.  More specifically, the brain melt-down that is associated with being in your final 6 months of getting your PhD.  Not only am I in the data slump from hell right now, I also have the added pressure of knowing that I need to (gasp) find a job.  I’ve been in school/academia literally since I was 3 (I’ll have to talk to my parents about that one, but isn’t 3 a little early to start pre-school?)  so I think the idea of getting a real job in the real world scares me way more than writing my dissertation.  Writing is easy, hell – I’m doing it right now!  Finding and getting a job?  That, I’m not so sure about.

I’ve been thinking lately about what I’ve learned about life while in grad school.  Sure, I’ve learned a lot of technical crap which, frankly, I pretty much hate talking about at this point, but grad school is about more than just the specific field you study.  So here, in bullet point form (its easier for my left-brain oriented mind to organize things into bullet points) are the things that you will learn from graduate school.

  •  PhDs are a dime a dozen.  Seriously, you look around and everyone has one.  That’s when those insecurities about securing any sort of meaningful job seep in.  You think, what in the world do I have that is in any way special?  Why would anyone hire me?
  • There really are very few standards for who gets a PhD.  This one has really been a sore point with me lately.  I have seen, within my own program and others, a very wide difference in how much work students have put in towards their PhD.  There are no set exams or other standards that need to be met.  It is all up to your adviser and committee.  And if your adviser is powerful enough they can pretty much dictate when their students graduate.  Its all kind of a sham.
  • Earning a PhD is not so much about intelligence as it is about perseverance.   Grad school will beat you down.  You go through amazing highs and depressing lows and you just have to ride it out knowing that someday, it will all be over.
  • Stress can send you to the emergency room.  I had this wonderful experience after working too many weekends, having too much crappy data and going through the inevitable money woes.  I had a sudden onset of intense muscle spasms in my neck, a real pain in the neck (oh come on, I had to).  Stress is insidious and will sneak up on you if you let it.  I think the best way to beat the stress is to hop on the elliptical trainer and sweat it out for an hour.  Either that or sneak off to a movie during the middle of the work day!

G and I were discussing recently why they call this degree from all fields of study a PhD.  I personally think its called a doctor of philosophy because above all else, you learn to think in graduate school.  You learn how to analyze and solve problems, you learn how to be critical, you don’t learn facts, you learn reasoning.  This is where a PhDs differs from JDs or MDs.  No disrespect intended, but for those degrees, original thinking isn’t really encouraged and you are forced to memorize insane amounts of black and white information.  That is of course necessary for doctors and lawyers, but it is a distinction nonetheless.

Back to the whole “finding a job” thing.  My most despised question that I am asked by everyone I know is “what do you want to do after you graduate?”.  I know its horrible to say this, but I’m still not sure.  What I really want to do is take a year off to let my mind atrophy a bit.  Everyone assumes that since you’re getting a PhD you have this grand plan for your life, but I’ll tell you another secret, grad students are the most confused people around, this may have something to do with the aforementioned brain melt-downs.  Don’t even try to ask me about the future.  I can barely plan dinner.

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1 Comment

  1. rehull said,

    🙂 Wow, that describes my current mindset very clearly… well done, B! I’ve been in the 6 month meltdown for the past year or so, because it has seen like “6 months left” for that long… so at this point I’m really tired of the “when are you going to graduate” question, but now that my research report is almost done (well it goes into a review process), I have plans of cornering my professor and choking out of him a realistic graduation date. …oh, and choke out of him his thoughts on industry jobs in Indianapolis.

    Love the bullet points too! That’s how my mind thinks lately, and lists to check off as well… and the best thing I’ve learned from writing, is it is so much easier to sum up something in a table that is 4 inches wide and 2 inches tall on paper, than it is to describe it in words for a few pages that no one is going to read anyway, and would most likely fall asleep to, if it were written out.

    I agree with the elliptical trainer as a way to beat stress, but it sucks when you need to do that the most, but there is no time. I’m now planning to get back into that routine, and I think making lists has really helped decrease my stress too, instead of laying awake at night trying to remember my mental list, instead of getting much needed sleep!

    Can’t wait to see you soon! Hang in there, fellow grad student 😉

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