Friday, September 17, 2010

12. Adulthood waits.

The Lewis Hine photograph of a boy studying at the top of the page captures at least two aspects of the graduate school experience. First, there is the boy’s concerted solitary concentration on the book that he is carefully reading. He is following his finger from line to line, a measure seldom employed when reading for pleasure. He is reading because he has to. But the photograph also captures the subject’s youth. Children go to school. As college has been dragged out longer and longer, the socially acceptable period for study has lengthened, but it can still feel strange to explain to someone that you are a student—even a graduate student—well into your twenties or thirties. Notably, the young boy photographed in 1924, with his necktie carefully tucked into his buttoned-up shirt, is more formally dressed than virtually any college student—and the vast majority of graduate students—whom one would encounter today.

Another image, the May 2010 cover of the New Yorker magazine, also captures a pair of graduate school realities. The first is the terrible job market for new PhDs and the very real possibility that your childhood room awaits you after graduation (see Reason 8). The second is portrayed in the look on the graduate’s parents’ faces. They do not share his pride. To them, their adult son looks disconcertingly at home amid his boyhood surroundings. Graduate school, like modern-day college, can act as one more extension of “youth,” in part because it dramatically stunts your earnings in early adulthood, but also because it keeps you in close proximity to the juvenile trappings of the modern college experience. Unfortunately, aging will not slow down to indulge you in your studies.



47 comments:

  1. lol that's like the perfect pic for what you were saying

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  2. I love that picture too! Just perfect.

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  3. Graduate school is like all of the crappy parts of college (uncertainty about what kind of job you're going to have; lack of respect from the greater world; terrible fashion choices) without the same fun stuff. Don't get me wrong--I've made friends in graduate school and enjoyed some aspects of the experience--but it's not the same as college. You're not going to stay up until 5 am watching bad 70s films with your friends once you're in grad school and you have to teach at 8 am the next day. You're not going to get a chance to study abroad unless your research specifically requires it. You're not going to have summers or winter break off because you'll have incompletes to finish, a conference paper to write, and a professor who wants you to check all the citations in a book he just drafted.

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  4. Sorry, I have to disagree: graduate school is awesome.

    1) As a liberal arts graduate, most of my fellow students who aren't in graduate school are struggling in a job market that in no way values their skill-set. Going from a top 15 liberal arts college to Macy's is hardly what I'd call 'adulthood' in any positive sense. Graduate school gives me the structure, direction, and purpose while I pursue a professional degree--for which my compensation will be an order of magnitude greater than my non-graduate school undergrad classmates.

    2) Graduate school will be great if you are good at what you do. I have full tuition covered, plus a generous living stipend that covers room, board, and books. Get A's, it pays off!

    I'm studying architecture, so there are tons of great travel opportunities--often paid in part or in full by the university--we have winter break trips to Berlin, Shanghai, and Dubai. We also have studios in Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Buenos Ares, and Casablanca. Each of these studios is a semester long and is covered in full by the university--with the exception of air travel.


    3) Its literally the best parts of college made better. I'm old enough to experience the night life of the city, I'm treated better than the undergrads, I have direct access to my professors, and my work is respected. I get to spend summers sketching Shinto shrines in Kyoto, which i get paid to do (again, be good at what your craft!). I can afford a car, nice-ish clothes, and decent booze. I don't have to buy ditch weed and I can bring a little blow to a party.

    Go to graduate school if you'll be doing something you love. And as steve martin said "be so good they can't ignore you"

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    1. The issue with No. 1 is that, in some grad programs, the graduates find that they too have to work at Macy's

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    2. My brother got a MS in a STEM subject and had an experience similar to yours. However, he graduated into the recession, did not get a job right away, and had to move back home with Dad for awhile. The New Yorker photo is exactly what his move home looked like, if the kid and parents had darker hair.

      In addition to literally being the red-headed (kinda) step-child of the family, I am also the only one in the ENTIRE family, unless my Greatest Generation grandparents count – and I pray they do, as they endured some of the greatest trials in American history, and yes, Grandma and Nana were both auburn-tressed! – who stopped with undergrad.

      As I said in another comment, I work in the "T" of STEM, with a generalist liberal arts degree and a load of "T" certs. Or I did, as I am unemployed and forever being passed over for younger and younger techies. I envied hearing about my brother's last year of grad school, because it sure beat living in a ramshackle apartment with my husband and worrying about when the money I'd painstakingly saved would run out. We are moving to a different city where he has a job and I do not – unsurprising, as women are offered but a tiny sliver of jobs involving relocation. I feel angry, defeated, and like an old man and a petulant teenager at once. Yet I have never been to grad school. Why am I on this blog? Maybe only to convince myself that moving and continuing with my career is the best thing, and that my feelings of hopelessness and penchant for thinking Kurt Cobain was possibly right.

      I just want to say that this economy for job-seekers is unlike anything I've seen in my life, and having graduated college before the ubiquity of internet, I am behind in many ways. (I used to FAX resumes as a new grad, how quaint!) It's hard to keep myself from envying new grads, as they are younger, and from my vantage point, much more desirable than an expensive chick who, to HR's mind, probably can't work worth a damn because she has a bunch of kids to take care of.

      (I'm not doing anything stupid. I'd have done that already when my alcoholism or other addictions were in full swing.)

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    3. "That I am not alone in my feelings of hopelessness and penchant for thinking Kurt Cobain was possibly right" it should read above. Also, my dad went all white a while ago...I keep forgetting.

      Another reason I will never go to grad school is the GREs/GMATs. I am a STEM person. I've take the MCATs for fun before and I'm obsessed with science, but I fail at the lit/English questions on the other tests. I cannot study and memorize all those arcane words in the hopes of boosting my pathetic track record where I get six out of 10 verbal questions wrong.

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    4. To Anon 10/28/10 4:46pm. Ask the university to refund your tuition. You have learned nothing of value. Then go back to enjoying your non-ditch weed and cocaine.

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  5. In many ways, the above comment proves the point.

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    1. My younger brother was the privileged sort whose grad school experience makes me envious. We had a very classic Gen-X vs Gen-Y upbringing, where I was a latchkey, on my own at 18 save for a bit of money (those were the days when college cost but a few grand a year, and I got a full ride of grants and scholarships), and financially on my own at graduation. I finished early too. My brother took 5 years in undergrad and another couple for grad school...he didn't need to even consider jobs until he was almost 27 years old. By that age, I was finished with management training, had my own team, and earned twice the median income of my city. (Would've made more, but I'm female and gender discrimination is rampant in STEM.)

      I still envy him though because he's never known the insecurity of navigating a post-Reagan/NAFTA job market through several booms and busts. And he doesn't have this complete and abject fear of authority, bosses, layoffs, etc. like I do. I've already been downsized several times and I'm on the younger end of Gen-X. He's more like my parents, in that he knows everything will work out and the money will be in the bank.

      My husband quit university because he couldn't afford it, as a first-generation American. Yet he understands where I'm coming from far more than my multi-degreed family does. The only other people who understand what I'm feeling are the commenters on this blog, including those pursuing post-bacc education, those finished with it, and those not in it but who are aware of the pitfalls.

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    2. Actually white college-educated women in their 20s make over $1,000/year more on average than their white male counterparts. They are also more likely to be hired in the first place.

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  6. A response to the previous Anonymous poster:

    I agree: grad school is awesome.

    However, you are quite a privileged grad student, although you may not realize it.

    I study anthropology, which is a subject I love and am fascinated by. But when I tell people what I am studying, the standard response is, "What is anthropology?" or "Great. What are you going to do with that degree?" How often do you get those kind of questions studying architecture?

    I also get the opportunity to travel for research and meetings. And my travel is covered…if the grants go through.

    And just getting As is not going to do it for you. In many departments—including mine—there are only so many funding lines for grad students (and some of those only cover single semesters rather than full years). I work two jobs because I am not funded and like being able to pay my own rent instead of having to call up daddy for help or take out an extra loan (as many of my classmates do).

    In addition, just getting that degree—even if it is a professional degree—is not insurance for a job. I have friends who graduated from my program with an MS (which is designed to be a degree to go into the job market with, not for academia), and are now living back with their parents or trying to find a volunteer position just to get their foot in the door.

    That being said, I am glad you enjoy your graduate work, and I absolutely agree with your statement that people should go to graduate school if they'll be doing what they love. But you should count yourself fortunate for the benefits you get from your program—not everyone has those opportunities.

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  7. 1st Anonymous: "Graduate school is like all of the crappy parts of college (uncertainty about what kind of job you're going to have; lack of respect from the greater world; terrible fashion choices) without the same fun stuff." Why? See what the 2nd Anonymous to post said-- D-bags like the second guy make it that way. Grad school sukd dookie. After I graduated, I cut my Turabian manual in half with a frickin' saw... tip: cut toward the spine.

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  8. I honestly think it has a lot to do with what kind of graduate work you're doing. Areas of science, specifically biomedical and engineering, are quite nice. Many schools are showing a trend of fully funding (with stipend) their biomedical graduate students (usually including medical insurance). Sure, there is a lot of work involved, but if you like your respective discipline it works out very well. The added benefit here is that there are many job opportunities in the sciences.

    I can understand the frustration that various people in the humanities may have, but I don't think that all graduate programs should be grouped together like this.

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  9. Agree with above poster. But this blog's "focus is on the humanities and social sciences," according to the description.

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  10. Anonymous #2, clearly misunderstood. Imagine going through Grad school, and STILL ending up at Macy's, which is a certain destiny for many a Grad student. That's the whole point of this excellent blog. It doesn't apply to architecture.

    I'm also a Graduate student in Anthropology (and I love the subject but I hate the teachers). Without funding (and a supportive and rather affluent family), you might as well graduate in 10 years.
    MM

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    1. Yes, but If you have a bachelor's and work at Macys, and you dont go to grad school, then how much are you really accomplishing?

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  11. I am currently a humanities grad student. Even though many of these are true about grad school in the humanities, they seem like either the pessimistic view or simply poor reasons not to do something. I was previously a high school teacher...a job that in many ways bears even less respect than that given to grad students. (I loved working w/ high schoolers; all those people who were like "how can you stand them" simply showed their own preferences.) I didn't do it for the money or the security or the praise of those around me. Grad school is similar; I don't study history and learn weird languages for those reasons either. I do hope to parlay these skills into a job one day, but it won't be because I have a degree after my name.

    The thing I actually take issue with is the assumption here that grad students must not yet be adults. Perhaps those who go directly from undergrad to grad school feel that they have not completely grown up, but I see both grad school and prolonged singleness as viable forms of adulthood. My time teaching helped me make that transition from child to adult. Returning to university has not taken that away from me. Living on a more hand to mouth budget does not make a person less an adult. Using one's family network to procure assistance can be different than having "daddy" pay for things. (Most of my furniture comes from family cast-offs.)

    So for people reading this who are a different kind of grad student, you don't need to feel that these descriptions define you. For the kinds of jobs I would like to do in the future, I need the additional learning and experience of grad school. It may still be difficult to acquire a job in those fields, but without grad school it would be impossible. Don't let these posts discourage you if it's really what you want to do.

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    1. Ryan - NeuroscienceOctober 2, 2012 at 10:28 PM

      second that, I love what I do, and it is being done for nobody but myself. Not to mention the fact that my desired field would be impossible to access without my Ph.D.

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    2. Ryan: The blog says that it's focusing on *humanities* graduate programs, not science ones. Things are different for science grad programs.

      जया: That's what I initially thought. But what happens is one sees friends and classmates start earning lots of money, buying homes, and raising families. Then you start feeling jealous. Even if one had teaching experience, companies hiring don't necessarily value that; they want job experience.

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    3. "I don't study history and learn weird languages for those reasons either. I do hope to parlay these skills into a job one day, but it won't be because I have a degree after my name."

      I feel the exact same way and I love your response. Keep on keeping on!

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  12. Anonymous #3 here... Want to grad school, got my degree, but it SUCKED royally.

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  13. "I didn't do it for the money or the security or the praise of those around me. Grad school is similar; I don't study history and learn weird languages for those reasons either. I do hope to parlay these skills into a job one day, but it won't be because I have a degree after my name."

    This makes little sense to me. Why spend 6-10 years of your life studying towards a degree (and losing copious amounts of money doing it) while suffering such psychological distress if you aren't going to get anything out of it? I don't like the trope that we shouldn't expect anything out of PhD studies besides some intellectual fulfillment. Of COURSE we should. Time is money. I don't expect to be rich but I should be able to live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle after spending 5 years of my life getting a PhD.

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  14. Good luck getting a job with a graduate degree in Architecture (post 3). I have a Bachelors in Architecture and working on my Masters in Civil Engineering. I know many many Graduate Architecture students who believe that their bachelors in liberal arts will help them.

    Architecture is a completely different monster. From what I know the graduate Arch students take 4 studios (2yrs) to then achieve their degree. The work between a 4th and 5th yr arch student and a Architecture Graduate (w/ no prior arch background) is like night and day. The masters student usually has limited knowledge on building systems (HVAC,plumbing, electrical) since they don't cover as much as the bachelors of Arch students who take 6-8 of these courses through their 5-6yr stay. Also Masters students have a very difficult time finding architecture work and usually end up teaching. Like most of my professors who are Ivy league Masters of Arch graduates with almost NO COMMON SENSE! Good luck, and enjoy your fully funded education.

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  15. I went through graduate school over a period of four years by paying for courses with tip change from my bartending job. I graduated at age 39. You only live once and the career college student still has 30 years of the real world to do as they please. I wouldn't change a thing!

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    1. I have to agree with you, Winter. Live once and make it count. That is my motto.

      You can not go to grad school or go and either way end up with a suck job. It is hard work and luck together.

      I think I want to experience as many awesome things as possible. I want to have a great journey. (now if my life was so terrible as some of the posts...I would get out at a full speed sprint with no remorse)

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    2. "and the career college student still has 30 years of the real world to do as they please." - That's not always true. Fertility rates go down, so if one says "I want a family" then it will be much harder to start one (especially if the person is a woman). Prospects for establishing a new career go down; employers often don't want to hire 35-year old PHD students who were unable to go into academics as they are "overqualified." - Plus even if you do decide to be a career student, how will you feel when your friends who didn't become career students find security and start establishing their lives? There IS a time limit to finding success in life.

      "You can not go to grad school or go and either way end up with a suck job. It is hard work and luck together." But then, why bother sinking years into grad school for a PHD when one is likely to get a bad job anyway? You could not go, stay in a bad job, and get promoted.

      "I think I want to experience as many awesome things as possible. I want to have a great journey." Yes, so I experience it now, but will that help me experience more awesome things 20-30-40 years down the line? Or will I be resigned to food stamps and poverty because I wanted to do all of the awesome things while I was in my 20s?

      I wish I knew what I know now when I was 20 years old, and I wish all college freshmen knew these things.

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    3. Laura: Remember the words "opportunity cost" - there is a cost for doing something since you are NOT doing something. When you take a cool study abroad break that has nothing to do with your major, you are NOT improving your career prospects or improving your employable skills (try to choose a study abroad which DOES improve your skills). When you are going to grad school, you are NOT earning money. There may be a payoff later, but if you stay in grad school too long or if you get out but can't find a good job, then all you did was waste years of your life.

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    4. Some people who take career-oriented masters programs in social sciences are able to get prestigious internships that they weren't aware of, or weren't able to get, when they were undergrads. However you still have to factor in opportunity cost (every college freshman needs to know about that!)

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  16. The only thing graduate school does is make you overqualified for the job you could have already had with a Bachelor's. Case in point: ME. I have never had a problem finding a job with my BS in academic OR private sector research. In fact, the one time I was job searching, I had several opportunities at once and got to choose the job I wanted. I've met MANY people in my same line of work who think they are above my job only because they have a PhD. Well, suck it up losers. I've got a job doing what you want to do AND I have all the years of real world experience you wasted in graduate school.

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    1. Sorry for the double post, but it was meant to be a reply to this one... Some people who take career-oriented masters programs in social sciences are able to get prestigious internships that they weren't aware of, or weren't able to get, when they were undergrads. However you still have to factor in opportunity cost (every college freshman needs to know about that!)

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  17. it's also a matter of how well you define your balance between the world of academia and the world outside the university, along with your self-identity in relation to these two worlds.

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  18. (continued from the previous post) these would largely define one's satisfaction with the grad student life.

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  19. I would like to know how the architect is doing now, I imagine he has had a short sharp shock when he turned up to an interview being the oldest by five years desperately trying to make up for his lack of experience with an ultimately superfluos degree.

    I, like him, got offered a fully funded doctorate except in offshore renewable energy. It was the hardest decision of my life to ultimately turn it down because I reliased, like him, I just wanted a few more years of being a student.

    His post betrays far too much. Desperately listing off a party lifestyle with drugs and foreign cities, woo! When you're 19 fantastic but in your mid to late twenties showing off about being a pothead and having A's is pathetic especially while your peers are settling down and getting married and working up the career ladder.

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    1. I feel like I have to play devil's advocate for a moment here. Sure, it's "immature" and offensive to the idea of the "American Dream" and "what you're SUPPOSED to do" to reject the "standards of adulthood. But I graduated at 21 among a sea of people who were 18 months to 5 years my senior (Gen-X codified the process of dragging out the bachelor's degree), and threw myself into "career" immediately, only to find myself burnt-out and unemployed in my 30s. I did not get a grad-school education, that is true, but I have been around the block, and I am aware of people's pre-existing prejudices and knee-jerk reactions.

      I think that in the modern economy, most of us have a target on our heads, and when it's our time to go has to do with luck, gender, class, race, and what jobs we were able to get. I knew that buying a house or having kids were not in the cards for me – I saw them as financial millstones that I didn't even want, and I knew I could never be sure of my financial future. For trying to be responsible (and rewarding myself by going clubbing or bar-hopping twice a month), I have been sneered at and excluded as much as any grad student. It is thought to be ludicrous that a 30-something woman should marry late (I waited till 29, but lived with my now-husband for most of my 20s), rent property, enjoy amusements that are supposed to cease by age 25 at latest, and above all, not fulfill her so-called "biological destiny" of childbearing.

      Many people are angsty about falling behind their peers because they play the compare game. I look at my peers who are unable to move around the country for jobs, or even stay up past 10 PM and take time for themselves because of home ownership and children, not to mention my peers from high school who settled into miserable marriages as young as 18 years of age, and my only emotion is one of relief, i.e. "Glad I didn't complicate my life like that."

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  20. Love this site. I've been to grad school twice, and I think there's a lot to be said here. It all depends on what you're majoring in.

    First time was to get a master's in engineering. 2 year, full ride research assistanceship with paid tuition plus $14K/yr stipend. The stipend was low compared to industry salary but the school was located in a backwater so cost of living was low. I still wonder, in retrospect, if I shouldn't have just toughed out the job market (which was rather lousy at the time), as the pay bump from BSME to MSME wasn't worth the opportunity cost of lost wages (it was essentially worth another $10K/yr for starting salary, and this differential faded over time.) I was offered a PhD position and turned it down... felt like too much of the same thing.

    Second time was to get an MBA at a top 10 program. My employer paid for that, though my first year bump in pay as a strategy consultant would have paid off this grad school program.

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    1. One thing to keep in mind that this blog explicitly says that it has a focus on Humanities PHDs, which are a different ballgame from Science PHDs.

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  21. I graduated from University in May and after several interviews and rejections, I was initially regretting my decision not to go to graduate school. However, after several months, I think risking unemployment was a better choice. I feel like I've matured and learned more in the past few months, leaving the comforts of university life.
    I have a better idea of my ideal career path just by getting out there, networking, figuring out my ideal work environment through temporary jobs, and just really focusing on careers and job searching.

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  22. The theory of prolonged immaturity

    I think that as the average life span has increased cone various stages of childhood and adolescence have also increased. We spent more time in these stages. That is, its duration has been extended. And school life from the earliest levels through college or even graduate programs favored to happen. I agree with this reason number 12. And the whole thing seems like a big problem that has not been analyzed in depth. It seems to me that in the early twentieth century a young man of 16 years could be much more mature than a 16 years is currently. Among other consequences of this is for example the lack of development of a mature male character. To put it another way, currently the education given and guaranteed by the state is like the little pot that restricts the growth of a bonsai tree. Our mental capacity or maturity and character are also stunted by the trappings of the modern college experience (and in general for the whole process of the different school levels).

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    1. In the early 20th century, a 16 year old white male in the U.S. could expect to live to about age 63. Today, about 82.

      That probably has something to do with it. We've got 20 more years.

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  23. I'll call bullshit on this one. Grad school is a necessary part in a scientist's career and although people insist in calling the ones in it grad "students", that's hardly the case. It's a low-pay entry level in a scientific career.

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  24. (cont. from above) I left my job for the city to come back for the sake of it, so I know what the heck I'm saying. Grad school is not for everyone, it's a career decision just like any other one.

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  25. I was already well aware that adulthood waits. I wanted to work first before I tried getting a master's degree.

    But did the powers that be listen to it? No. Because they still believed in the traditional myths of graduate school.

    It's frustrating how the way they tried to influence me is now starting to lead me to a miserable path in the rest of my adulthood. And that's why while I struggle to end this graduate school life once and for all, I'm trying to fix my own life as well.

    Never will I allow them, or anyone else for that matter, to ruin my life again just so that they can feel good inside.

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  26. I love being a 30-something student getting back and finally finishing a degree, working with grad-students and getting sneered at by a bunch of petulant quasi-adults, several of whom I had to show how to USE A FUCKING COMPASS.

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  27. Like every other reason on this blog--say, when will we reach 100?--this one is utterly correct. "Children go to school." When you are a student, even a purportedly advanced-level graduate student, you still find yourself, wittingly or not, in the role of a child: living to please the teacher, getting good "marks," as my grandfather used to call them, worrying about sucking up, slacking off where you can...and you are paying for it, or your parents are, or the taxpayers/private donors, or more likely some combination of all three.

    In "The Road to Wigan Pier," George Orwell cogently characterizes the "healthy" blue-collar attitude towards what they perceived as excessive schooling: "The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who ought to be bringing home a pound a week to his parents, going to school in a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! He is a man when the other is still a baby." This pertained to working class people who spurned what we consider to be a basic level of education--one could only imagine what these miners in the North of England circa 1935 would think of today's GRAD students! I cite this example not to deprecate education altogether, but only to illustrate how extreme the situation has become. Yes, we do live longer, forty may well be the new thirty, and so forth. But there is no doubt in my mind that for many, graduate school, regardless of the field (though especially so in the humanities and social sciences), is a common tactic for evading adulthood.

    I speak from experience, not out of a desire to self-righteously condemn others. I am nearly fifty, and although I am now employed full-time, such has not been the case for much of my adult life. The other day I calculated that I have spent over ten years *after college and law school* matriculated in various degree programs. Hence I am personally guilty of this--I spent quite a bit of time dwelling at "Hotel Mama," and later in all kinds of ramshackle accomodations, including a VW van for nearly a year attending graduate school and avoiding the real world. It is important to recognize, though, that most of us who fall into this vicious cycle are not entirely aware of it at the time, because one gets swept up in the graduate school maze, and it certainly is a lot of work, much of it frustrating and unrewarding.

    Those dwelling in the "real world" used to look askance at people stretching (or commencing) graduate study into their thirties, but these days, the spectacle of otherwise intelligent people in their forties, fifties, and even sixties struggling with miniscule budgets, student loans, and a paucity of job prospects is no longer a rarity. One woman I know embarked on an M.A. at 46, took four years or longer (rather than two) to finish even that, then began a Ph.D. at 58! Bizarre, really.

    Forgive my longwindedness--another bloviating byproduct of grad school, I reckon--but it is so true.

    Children go to school.
    Adults go to work.

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  28. It is incredible how cult-like academia can be. I can only speak for an English department, but it's unbelievable how few people truly have lives outside of their work.

    I finished my M.A. degree this past May, and when I was debating between hunting for a job and accepting a PhD opening, a couple of people in my cohort were flabbergasted that I didn't immediately accept the fellowship that would have paid for my schooling. I found it surprising that I should happily accept a more than full time job that pays less than working at a Whole Foods Market. Additionally, the school barely ranks in the top 100 nationally in the U.S., meaning I'd be excluded from a vast majority of teaching jobs because of favoritism toward more prestigious institutions. Despite all those issues, the other students still insisted I should've gone on studying.

    Fortunately, I gained some volunteer experience with a non-profit while working at Whole Foods on the side, and recently secured a full-time position elsewhere as a grant writer. While to some extent I will miss the days of research papers and reading, I am quite happy that my adult life can successfully begin at age 24, not 28-30.

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