Monday, February 21, 2011

47. It requires tremendous self-discipline.

Graduate school is not like college. Perhaps so many people go to graduate school because they are mistakenly under the impression that it is. In college, you go through a tidy progression of classes from one term to the next, each having a beginning and an end, neatly punctuated by mid-term exams, final exams, and regular paper assignments. While hundreds of other students march through similar routines all around you, you follow a set class schedule from day to day until, finally, you take your last final exam in your last class and walk away with your diploma. (In the mean time, you probably have some fun, too.) In the United States, graduate programs begin with coursework, but classes designed for graduate students are different from those designed for undergraduates and can be extremely unsatisfying in comparison (see Reason 21). Classes are smaller, so the feeling of shared experience is diminished from the outset. As you enter the isolation of preparing for your comprehensive exams, that shared feeling all but disappears. If you pass those exams, then the real isolation begins.

Imagine a day when someone says to you, “Write a book.” This will not be just any kind of book; a thesis or dissertation is the product of tedious research and the most laborious kind of writing: academic writing (see Reason 28). You must write this book while fulfilling your basic obligations (like paying the rent), carrying out your obligations as a teaching or research assistant (which makes paying the rent possible), and satisfying the expectations of your potential future employers by adding as many lines to your resume as possible (presenting papers at conferences and publishing articles). If you don’t receive funding from your department, then you will either have to hold down a different kind of job or sink into debt (see Reason 1) as you research and write. For all intents and purposes, you are on your own throughout this process. Some people are adept at managing unstructured time and multiple obligations at once, but graduate-school attrition rates (see Reason 46) make it clear that some people are not. Given how long it takes for most of those who do finish to finish (see Reason 4), it is probably safe to say that most people are not.



26 comments:

  1. Most of the posts on this blog describe my friend, who started grad school last year (Sociology). I already knew the job prospects were shitty and told her, and she said she knew too, but it was what she set herself up for and she couldn't imagine herself working in anything else VOCATIONAL, like medicine (and not-too-subtle jab at my life, as I'm in med school). Now she's experiencing the isolation that this post mentions, the imposter syndrome, the bitchy professors and department politics, delays in her funding, and hates two of her seminars and more or less lost her love of reading.

    I feel bad but I don't know how to say, "Get out while you still can" without sending her into another breakdown. (She's already had one.)

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  2. Not to be cruel, but I think you're beginning to run out of reasons. You've hammered home that grad school in the Liberal Arts is an economic drain, that the writing is tedious, that grad students are used as cheap faculty, and that getting a job in academia after graduation is near impossible. Just those things alone should keep most people away from graduate studies....I always expected graduate school to be a grind because they are training you to be a professor.

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  3. This is the best blog ever!
    I never really wanted to go to grad school, but I am somehow still addicted to reading these reasons, keep em coming!

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  4. I actually think this is a good reason. Most people (myself included) don't really see grad school as different from undergrad at the onset. If you have been a stellar student from primary to secondary to undergraduate schooling, why not go to grad school? The reality is that isn't quite like any other kind of previous schooling, and is much more open ended and less structured. Combining this reason with difficulty in leaving grad school (with degree or otherwise) and the potential financial and emotional hardship, this is definitely something to consider before entering a grad program.

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  5. Eh. This is one of the weaker reasons. This blog is called "100 reasons NOT to go to grad school" and I don't think having tremendous self-discipline is a good reason not to go to grad school (if anything, this means self-disciplined people should go to grad school). Also, some people really do like smaller classroom setting and learn better that way. Perhaps if this post tied it more to a "grad school burnout" angle it would be more believable.

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  6. Best reason so far. I don't think it's spelled out to many people that you are actually writing the longest most protracted type of book there is while doing all this other stuff.

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  7. Wait, funding is supposed to be high enough to pay the rent?

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  8. First time poster here.

    One of the best lessons I ever learned from an old-timer about self-discipline upon entering my PhD program was to write out my entire prospectus (basically the whole dissertation minus the results and conclusion) within a semester. Most of the students responded something to the effect "you must be f*#@ing crazy!" He was.

    Still, upon attempting this masochistic project, 5 of the 12 entering PhD students immediately dropped out within a year. Four years later, I'm a chapter away from being done and I'm 1 of 3 people from the original 12 (not including other students who have since been admitted and some who have also dropped out) that have been dedicated enough to stick this out.

    As a quick disclaimer: I'm by no means a *perfect* PhD student. By my first year, I knew academia wasn't for me. But the program was paying for everything and I really hadn't considered an alternative career path at the time, so I decided to push onward. Perhaps not the best of reasons to stay, but I met the love of my life in the process. All things considered, I'm getting a free education (yes, lots of stress included) and a person I love tremendously; not too shabby.

    Anyways, my point, much like the author of this blog, is that, yes, there are many, MANY negatives to grad school; I can vouch for almost 95% of everything that has been written as true. The other 5% is really a matter of personal preference and how much BS you can patiently and politely endure. But there are also some unexpected nuggets of joy along the way. I would by no means tell everyone to pursue the path I did--the same path the author and many others have warned against--but the worst of the worst really comes down to employment; will you have a job or at least marketable skills outside of academia upon completion of your program?

    Discipline or not, if you suck at life, have a bad attitude, or just can't be realistic about your ability to endure hostile work environments, grad school isn't for you; but the same can be said for many private sector jobs, too. Long story short, just be honest with yourself. The truth hurts, but reality will hurt more if you ignore it.

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  9. Also, you have no time to have a drink, catch a movie, go out on dates, and any free time you might have is spent reading, writing, or sleeping. This makes grad school extremely isolating for single students, which isn't helped by the fact that only 20 people in your department know what it is you do. It's no wonder the suicide rate of grad students is higher than that of undergrads. There is something seriously wrong with this system.

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  10. Okay, this one is ridiculous. Presumably if you're earning a graduate research degree, you have a serious research interest in academia, which means you WANT to get to the point where you can write books, and you're willing to make sacrifices to do it. I have absolutely zero sympathy for those who enter graduate school thinking it will be more of the same as undergrad - or graduate students whining about being expected to write books IF they land an academic gig. Of course, this will not be a problem for the whiny author of this blog, who will not in a million years be asked to write a book by anyone, academic or not.

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    1. I really hate comments like this! Great you know better, pat yourself on the back!

      HOWEVER, others don't! I see the reality every day at my school where people talk about going to grad schools like it is the next logical step or as a way to hide from facing the real world and becoming adults. These people can't write, can't think critically or creatively and hate theory and yet, they want to go to grad school. And no one tells them not to, no one tells them to think twice. No one!

      Maybe they should know better and do their research, but we are twenty and stupid, having been told all our lives that we are brillant and coddled in high school, having shallow praise thrown our way. I had a wake-up call and tried to help my friend. Unfortunately, she didn't believe me. The thing is undergrads have never seen the world, have never been on their own to experience something besides school and yes, they assume that since grad school is in a university then yes, it is the same.

      Don't underestimate how misinformed kids are today. You know better and you are one of the few. This blog is giving great advice that you should take into account.

      You can't imagine yourself in a cow town, can't imagine that you will have to delay having a family or that you will struggle to live week by week as friends and family look at you weirdly for still being in school-then, please do. This might be you. As Benton said: 1/5 will get the t-t job and everyone assumes that that will be you. Well, so do the other four.

      What I hate the most is that stories and comments like these-of success, of being different are just that stories. They are not the norm and people reading this should not use that as a basis. This might not be you; however, it might be. Just take things everything unto account. This is one of the times you should make generalizations, especially since the myth of the 1/5 making it and that being you is what keeps this scam of graduate school alive.

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    2. Very well stated. I was one of the undergrads who was deluded about the nature of graduate school, not in believing it was easy or didn't require discipline, but that it was a logical progression from undergrad. Given that most of my contacts were with the grad school lottery winners (i.e. professors) how could it not seem to be a logical progression? They told me what they had experienced, not what the experience was in general.

      I went into the program thinking it was a development process, and the first day the department chair told us we should start fishing our dissertation ideas around the department starting immediately. Right then I started to realize this was just a credential mill (a top 5 rated program btw). If you were already certain you wanted to be a professor, and you had a topic that fit in with the current fads, then you had it made. You just get on the treadmill and slog it out. If you were at all uncertain you were in deep trouble.

      I bailed out of this nightmare after 2 years and just wish I had the information from this blog back then.

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  11. Seriously, who thinks that grad school is as easy as undergrad? If someone is going into it with that mindset, there is a reason they don't have a job when they get out.

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  12. This isn't a valid reason to not go to graduate school. I have little sympathy for anyone who thinks that grad school is a continuation of undergraduate life (good grief one does have to work hard there too..nothing is really that easy in life). I agree with the last two comments written by the anonymous individuals.

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  13. A lot of commenters have said that this is not a valid reason to not go to graduate school. Perhaps that is true, but anyone seriously considering graduate school should be aware that it does require tremendous self-discipline. Even people who are naturally organized and structure their time well struggle with self-discipline to write a dissertation. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and she is one of the most practical-minded, conscientious persons I know. She said that writing her dissertation was the most miserable thing that she ever did, and she never would have pursued a PhD if she would have known what a terrible experience it would be. For me, the worst part of it is knowing that I am the only person who can write this thing. The more days that go by without making any noticeable progress, the worse I feel, which makes it even harder to make any progress, and the cycle continues. Yes, I do have good days, and there are moments when I realize that I really love what I'm doing, but it nearly always seems like an uphill battle.

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  14. I'd like to add a something to my previous comment. The reason here is that grad school requires "tremendous self-discipline", not that grad school "is kinda not easy". Unlike undergraduate studies (and any form of schooling before it), PhD studies are much less structured, less clearly defined, and more open-ended. There can also be life-circumstances, academic politics and plain-old changes in priorities over the course of obtaining a PhD. Compare this to undergrad, where everything is course-based, and even where there's choice, there's also a linear progression from start to finish. Not having the discipline to finish a PhD isn't a bad thing; it's a long and complicated process during a potentially very crucial part of one's life (20s-early 30s). But again, like many of the reasons stated here, these aspects of graduate education are barely even touched upon for most candidates starting out. It would be better for candidates if they were better informed.

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  15. I'm with most everybody on this: not a valid reason. Anything worth doing takes tremendous self-discipline.

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  16. I would say that if it isn't something you wouldn't do on your own, you shouldn't pursue it in graduate school.

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  17. Sounds like something you lack and thats why YOU couldn't cut it in grad school, or you never attempted it...ding fries are done.

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  18. I like many of your other reasons, but this one is not good. I'm a PhD student in Computer Science and had to take some undergrad level minor courses in math. I would say that in comparison to grad level classes, I absolutely hate the undergrad classes. Too many students, no interaction, no questions, too many homework and exams, plus some undergrads copy their homework from others...

    Indeed, it takes lots of self-discipline to go to grad school. Self-discipline is a good thing and directly connected to excellence.

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  19. I think that many of the commentators here are missing the point of not just this post, but of the blog itself. This blog exists to help people realize that they're not going to like grad school before they get into it, so, yes, a significant portion of this blog's intended audience is going to be "undergrads who have mistaken ideas about what grad school is like."

    If you didn't have such misconceptions about grad school before you decided to go, and you possessed the "tremendous self-discipline" that it requires to finish, then good for you. Everyone reading these comments is now aware that you are a superior human being and you have the acknowledgement of your brilliance from other people that you clearly seek, being that you decided you needed a PhD.

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    1. Well said! I wonder when these brillant minds realize that this blog is intended only for humanities and social sciences Ph.Ds?

      Meaning that if you aren't in grad school for these field, this really doesn't apply to you, so stop commenting and go away! Stop distracting people from the purpose of this blog. These comments will only encourage people that otherwise wouldn't go to grad school make a mistake by making blieve that their experience will be different. No, it won't be or it might be. But, if you are reading this blog, do research in your field, try to do an intership, just do something and see if you really, really like your major! And then, don't go to grad school, not directly out of undergrad until you experience the world after having been in school your entire life.

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  20. so if you knew all this shit already why did you even bother going to grad school? this blog has all the earmarks of a depressed writer simply looking for a place to vent.

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  21. "Writing is hard"? Is this some kind of joke? Also, of course the class sizes are small. This will remind you every time, that only a few make it this far, and even fewer will make it to the end, so you better stay serious!

    Writing a whole blog trying to discourage others from educating themselves is horrible, especially when there are brilliant kids in poor countries who wish they could study but don't have the money!

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  22. There are brilliant kids in this country who wish they could study but don't have the money.

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  23. Guys relax, everything is relative in life. It is still good for someone to make their points, at least you will have the chance to consider the issues you haven't considered before. I am glad that the owner of this blog mentions these points. I am myself considering to do a PhD in STEM, I still find these issues illuminating.
    Whether you can pull such a hard work off or not, depends on an individual, and it is not always easy to tell if you are going to succeed. We human beings tend to overestimate (over short periods) and underestimate (over long periods) lots of things. So rather than taking all facts at face value, I would suggest you to concentrate on the main points and their relevance to your decision making process. BTW you can always work on yourself to overcome many difficulties in life. The important point is if those difficulties are relevant and meaningful for you or not. Read lots of books, listen to others and think about these issues to find out what kind of path you want to take in life and then prepare to tackle the problems on the way. If you fail and see that it is going nowhere, change your course. You cannot foresee everything. That's why you live, to see it for yourself. No one else can do this for you, they can only point along certain directions and share their experiences. The rest is yours to figure out.

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