Monday, October 3, 2011

69. It is lonely.

In graduate school, you spend a great deal of time alone. Most academic work is the product of isolation. Studying, research, and writing are time-consuming solitary activities, as is the miserable drudgery of grading (see Reason 56). A longing for some sense of shared experience is probably what drives graduate students to coffee places, where they sit for hours in uncomfortable chairs, hunched over their laptops or over piles of ungraded papers. There, at least for a while, they can be in the company of others who are as alone as they are.

The loneliness of graduate school stems not only from the nature of the work, but from the way it alienates people from those around them. Much to their surprise, new graduate students discover that there is no intellectual community (see Reason 20) to mitigate the effects of their strange status on campus and in the wider world (see Reasons 30 and 37). They have no comfortable place in the social circles of either the undergraduates or the professors who surround them, and their relative poverty severely limits what they can do with friends who have regular jobs and incomes. The struggles and triumphs of graduate school are of no interest to friends and family members outside of academe. And graduate students themselves are so absorbed in their own work that they have little time or inclination (see Reason 2) to offer support to one other. Loneliness may be the single worst aspect of graduate-student life.



86 comments:

  1. It is also lonely for the significant other or spouse of the graduate student. My wife was incredibly supportive during my time in graduate school, but it was a lonely time for her as I was doing field work, laboratory work or writing for the better part of 7 years. I wasn't around much and when I was around, I was preoccupied. That's 7 years of our life that I forced us to give up and that we'll never get back. Was it worth it? Absolutely not. Life passed us by...

    ReplyDelete
  2. @6:51 In some ways, I think this is why it's so trendy now, at least in my field, to be "polyamorous." Anyone in my department who ends up getting married explains it away ("it's for insurance reasons"), because being married or committed to another person, to whom one is accountable, is so un-hip now.

    Well, academia is a perfect fit for folks who care for and commit to no one but themselves. I'm not saying that all of the poly-identified people on earth are narcissists, but all of the ones I know are. And that perspective is much more compatible with the academic lifestyle than is being a loving, responsive partner who wants to share life with someone else.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes. This is one of the many hidden consequences that work on you little by little to alienate you from almost everybody. My significant other and I, in a relationship of ten years, almost became so alienated from each other we almost ended it many times. The only time I would feel comfortable talking to anybody would be complaining about grad school life or talking about my dissertation. But talking about the dissertation is never a two-way street: the conversation is always completely one-sided with no real exchange of ideas. After all, what do I know about _obscure topic x_ and what does anyone else know about my _obscure topic y_?

    I am in a lit program and stopped reading books too. This is something that happens to many people that I've talked to. Getting a phd in literature is reading obscure and ultimately uninteresting books, both the primary and the secondary sources. You spend so much time convincing yourself that it is "fascinating" when it is not. This word begins to lose all meaning the more you hear it and say it, to the point that little is fascinating anymore. Count how many times a lit prof/grad student says that something is fascinating or interesting: my lady doth protest too much. (By the way, I decided about a year ago to read whatever the hell I want and found out I still love literature as much as I did, but I don't like academic ways of reading and writing, the texts you read, etc.).

    One more thing (I could go on and on...) you spend so much of your day alone, you end up wanting to assault the next person you talk to with conversation. This is unfortunate because you really have little to say after 8-10 hours reading and writing, but the human need is still there. It leads to a lot of frustration and strained relationships.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, it's horribly lonely period of time. It would be fantastic if I could get those lonely years back again. But I don't really honest think that this can be used as an excuse not to apply to a PHd programme...I think that have to realise that its part of the process. :-(

    ReplyDelete
  5. "But I don't really honest think that this can be used as an excuse not to apply to a PHd programme."

    See, I disagree. I think there are a lot of people who apply to graduate school, thinking it will be "an extension of undergrad" and thinking that they will become part of this cohort of students who will spend time studying and learning and socializing together.

    And this is true ... at first. But eventually, as you move further and further through the program you spend less and less time with your colleagues ... just as your work becomes harder to explain to your friends and family outside of academia. It's easy to explain coursework and a masters' thesis to non-academics ... far harder to explain fellowship applications and journal articles and the obscure topic you're studying for your dissertation.

    I think that for a lot of people, the loneliness is unexpected and creeps up on you. At first, it's great to be done with coursework and have more free time. But once you've spent a month in the library buried in your dissertation and you suddenly find you have nothing to talk to anyone about and haven't seen your friends in weeks/months, it can have some serious negative consequences.

    This isn't something that most people know about when it comes to grad school ... but it can have serious negative consequences (depression, anxiety, further isolation, etc).

    I think that if people know they have a hard time when they're socially isolated, they need to realize that this is a very common consequence of going to graduate school.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @11:18, there's loneliness then there's loneliness. I think what makes it so difficult in grad school is how persistent the loneliness is, and the fact that because it persists for such a long time, the emotional conditions of grad school can really start to wear on you. When you are coming out of undergrad, grad school looks like reading books, teaching, talking about important ideas, but when you get there and you're deep into it, those things look very different. It's something to think about at the very least, because say what you will about other kinds of workplaces and the varieties of people there (some great, many not so great), at least there is someone to talk to even if you don't like them. The daily grind of an a post prelims grad student features no such thing. The coffee shop example rings very true.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with JC. If you, like anthea, find yourself tempted to discount this or another one of the blogger's Reasons, recall the ostensible purpose of the blog:

    "to offer those considering graduate school some good reasons to do something else."

    Think about what you thought grad school would be like before you began, or when you were just an undergrad. Were there things that didn't occur to you about the day-to-day life of a grad student, or grad school culture? Were there surprises, disappointments? If the answer is an unequivocal "no," then please get in touch--you are clairvoyant and should be handling my investment portfolio. If the answer is, "well, yeah, I kinda didn't think of this one thing..." then try to be a bit patient with the rest of us who didn't have every last thing figured out. And fuck, who cares if Reason X isn't exclusive to grad school, or perhaps shouldn't, in and of itself, put someone off applying? If one, solitary prospective grad student reads this blog and decides NOT to apply, but to do something more satisfying and productive with his/her life, then the blogger has achieved something more noble and substantive than most of the rest of us ever will, with our obscure papers and pissy-faced attitudes.

    Grad school isn't a community of scholars. It's a shitty, lonely dungeon. Don't do it! Don't go!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. @anon 10:33 AM

    *I am in a lit program and stopped reading books too.*

    I think this is one of the most important comments from this blog. The very purported purpose of the graduate school - the life of the mind - is murdered by higher ed. For me, undergrad/grad school was a time that I did not have to read for myself, even on the topic I was supposedly getting a degree in.

    ReplyDelete
  9. To Anon “October 3, 2011 7:33 AM”

    ^What field are you in? Undergrad’s no place to find relationships either. Across campuses everywhere young people are ripping each other’s emotions apart. Lol.

    Basically, young people are put together, living a student life style so they’re going to “hook up” but because everyone is into their studies- thinking they’re going to change the world, their field, or get out of school and make a s*it load of cash that they miss opportunities to meet and grow with someone.

    On my campus, they had public service type signs for raising awareness about jilted exs stealing your identity, or passwords, or doing other destructive stuff…

    That and students are generally poor so it makes planning a future with someone difficult- but it doesn’t stop people from trying to get together…

    I will say this- I will never again “hook up”, have a one night stand or be fwbs with someone ever again. I’m done with living like that- and its not worth it anyway.

    About the loneliness part- I’ve kind of just changed expectations. I no longer expect not to be lonely. Oh well.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "Grad school isn't a community of scholars. It's a shitty, lonely dungeon. Don't do it! Don't go!!"

    Couldn't agree more!!! Sadly hilarious.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It definitely does get lonelier as you go along. When I started grad school I was teaching in one department and studying in another, and my roommate was in a third department, so I had tons of people to hang out with. I went to happy hours, brown bag talks, and roundtables. I had officemates, and other grad student mentors, and tons of classmates. I always had someone to talk to, until it came to trying to have a genuine friendship.

    It was very, very hard to have any kind of meaningful friendship, let alone romantic relationship, in grad school. People only knew how to talk about their field and only felt comfortable in their little area of campus, and when it came to just hanging out away from campus and not as part of a school event, forget it. This made weekends unbearably lonely for me. I ended up going online to look for non-grad school friends to hang out with, and that's where I made the friends who saw me through my dissertation. My cohort, by that stage, were nowhere to be seen, and it was pretty much accepted that once you become ABD you would drop off the face of the earth. I have never felt like less of a member of the academic community than I did during the 3 years I wrote my dissertation.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Pretty much everybody in an experimental research group gets to see each other on a daily basis because everybody must report to the same laboratory rooms to do their research each day. Physical isolation (buried in books at the library) is fairly rare for the experimentalist, but I suspect that math students and those in the pure theoretical sciences might experience physical isolation similar to that of a humanities graduate student.

    But, the experimentalist experiences a different kind of isolation that is equally damaging. While they may be working in close physical proximity to others in the lab, their research project is their own baby, and they are expected to "prove themselves" based on their ability to do independent research. That is, the isolation is project-oriented rather than physical isolation. Collaboration with others on a project is dangerous because it is likely to be viewed as leaning on the efforts of others. Collaboration will dilute your ability to prove your own worthiness.

    This kind of isolation (working long stretches on your own little project to prove how great you are) teaches EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE mindset that you need to survive in a corporate environment. In a corporate environment, you are often rewarded on how well you collaborate with others, and a company (especially a small business) often rises or falls on how well everybody works together as a team.

    Academia teaches people to be "lone wolf" one-off success stories. But, industry needs workers who know how to be part of a team.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I actually did form friendships with many of my grad school colleagues and know of even closer bonds (including romantic relationships and two marriages) that formed among various pairs of my peers. The real period of horrific loneliness is the adjunct years.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am generally a very lonely, shy, quiet reserved person. I'm in the hellish process of finishing my MA thesis wile working retail. Therefore, I am no longer going to classes and seeing peers, the level of loneliness has driven me to a suicidal state a few times. The social interaction I get at work isn't genuine and therefore doesn't help. I have no idea how to meet people in my same age group outside of going to school. I don't enjoy going to bars or clubs, i don't enjoy approaching people. I'm not interested in meeting professionals who are living a totally different life from me. I just want to go back to school and feel like a part of some social group, even if it isn't deeply meaningful. I met a couple of genuine friends at least.

    I'll be honest and say that I'm the ill adjusted, mentally unbalanced person who is perfect for grad school.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel the same... I've always been reserved and introverted, not even really having friends in undergrad and when I started my grad program-- I felt even more alone, disillusioned, and sub-human. I never felt like I had time to even talk online to a friend, go out for a fun day, not even felt I could have a night to sleep-- there is *always* work to be done.... :/

      Going to school for so many years in not conducive to having a healthy and functioning mind, that is for sure.

      Delete
  15. 10:33--Plenty of lit grad students "stop reading books" while they're in school. I was one of them. Actually, I found myself reading catalogues because, as deceptive as their ad-copy is, at least they had something to do with the "real" world.

    One thing I've noticed is that most lit faculty members actually hate lit, or at least they don't have the love for it they might have had when they were young. They only quote works of literature to seem erudite and to try to "one up" someone else in a conversation.

    It's ironic that the loneliness happens, in part, because people go to graduate school looking for a "community" of researchers, scholars or writers. Part of the reason why, I think, people look for it in graduate school is that "cafe culture" no longer exists even in cities like New York. In times past, you could live in the Village or North Beach or some other "Bohemian" neighborhood, get a job washing dishes or waiting tables and spend the rest of your time reading, writing and going to cafes to meet other people who were doing the same. Before World War II, any number of writers, artists and intellectuals honed their skills, craft and ideas this way. Some, like James Baldwin, never attended college, while others dropped out. They got their intellectual and creative sustenance from their fellow aspirants--and, occasionally, a slightly older and more "successful" writer--in those cafe sessions.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "The real period of horrific loneliness is the adjunct years."

    I'm in my first full year as a full-time adjunct and it's horrible. While I have a terrific spouse (see first comment, 6:51) to go home to, I spend my days alone. All I have going for me are waiting for reviews of the two remaining publications from my dissertation, prepping for introductory and non-major biology courses (13 contact hours) and my fruitless search for a 'real' job (whatever that is). I like teaching, so interacting with students during lecture and lab is the highlight of my week. I could care less about the peer-reviewed publications that will be in-press soon. It's like I performed those experiments a lifetime ago. It was top-notch research (really), but I have no intention of ever going back to that work. My birthday is today and I feel like this is the year I became old. If I took a different path, I don't think I would feel this way.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't know if it was the department, or the subject matter (mathematics), or the fact that I participated in church (both by going to church every Sunday and by participating in various activities), but I didn't feel fantastically lonely while in Gradauate School.

    If the math department was friendly (our secretary, in particular, would bend over backward to help you!) then that may be an unusual thing in the Graduate world--indeed, I enjoyed the occasional social gathering we had at the department. If it's because of the subject material--well, mathematics can *always* be interesting, at least to me, and unlike literary review, there are certain constraints that...don't exactly make math practical...but at least makes it logical, perhaps. If it's church and social activities, then that's a complete streak of good luck--both that I have a faith to rely on, and my community was friendly enough, and did enough interesting things, to prevent a shy mathematician from feeling lonely!

    It's likely a combination of all three.

    Having said all this, I'm definitely NOT going to say, "Go to church, and your troubles will all go away!" I could EASILY imagine one of these three factors not being there for me, and suddenly, my life would be miserable--even if I had a strong faith in God.

    And I would also add that I didn't feel perfectly confident that my Department would back me up: I felt "thrown to the wolves" with regards to teaching, and to this day I don't want to teach. When I caught a student cheating, I was afraid of the student's threat to go to the Dean--and I didn't have the conviction that the School would back me up on that, either.

    And currently, I'm interested in finding ways to avoid college altogether: I'd like to tutor home-schooled students, and perhaps tutor them to all the way to the "doctorate" level, sort-of using an apprenticeship model; emphasizing the pursuit of thought for the pure pleasure of it, at the same time keeping an element of "practicality", so that we could earn a living by some other means--manufacturing, perhaps, or computer programming--so that we could be grounded in reality as well.

    Even if I didn't have even a *hint* of loneliness, I doubt I would want to do something like this if I had an excellent experience in graduate school!

    As far as describing what I did as my dissertation: I would gladly do it, but I would have to provide a LOT of background information first! (As it is, it saddens me that my memory of my dissertation has faded somewhat over the years, and I don't have the time I would like to review it, and expand on it, more often.)

    ReplyDelete
  18. "As far as describing what I did as my dissertation: I would gladly do it, but I would have to provide a LOT of background information first! (As it is, it saddens me that my memory of my dissertation has faded somewhat over the years, and I don't have the time I would like to review it, and expand on it, more often.)"

    Uh...who asked you to describe your dissertation? Again, thanks smug STEM folks, for swooping in to tell us how not-bad things were for you. Makes the rest of us feel even more like dogshit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He did not say it was because of STEM. In fact here is his first paragraph..."I don't know if it was the department, or the subject matter (mathematics), or the fact that I participated in church (both by going to church every Sunday and by participating in various activities), but I didn't feel fantastically lonely while in Graduate School."

      These things could be just as true for humanities student. They aren't because he was in a STEM program. A humanity grad student can go to church and enjoy their subject matter. He lucked up with the good department because there are bad ones in STEM as well.

      Delete
  19. "Uh...who asked you to describe your dissertation? Again, thanks smug STEM folks, for swooping in to tell us how not-bad things were for you. Makes the rest of us feel even more like dog****."

    I thought I made it clear that my case wasn't about STEM, so much as my own personal experience--and ironically, I expected my declaration that my belief in God is what helped me through graduate school to be the controversial part of what I said!

    And I should make it clear that whatever lack of loneliness I had in graduate school, it wasn't enough to keep me in Academia!

    No one *here* has asked me to describe my dissertation, but I have been asked to describe it several times, and have only attempted to do so only half of those times. Even if someone *here* asked me to attempt to describe my dissertation, I wouldn't do it: this isn't the forum to do so, and I don't have the energy or the time, either.

    Having said all this, I haven't had much time to explore mathematics since I've graduated--I have to work for a living, and I don't use math at my current workplace (working as a computer programmer). In that sense, I suppose I'm *very* lonely: I want to pursue the subject I love, but I'm distanced from it--and any attempt to discuss my interests with friends and family tend to be met with glazed eyes, at best.

    There *ought* to be a place for people like me, or for Humanities junkies, who enjoy to explore their passions, but find they cannot do so in Academia. The trick is in finding those places, if they exist! (And I'm just as saddened to hear that the "cafe culture" described earlier doesn't seem to be as vibrant as it used to be, as I am, that I haven't been able to pursue my passion.)

    I brought it up, because of Anonymous 10:33 said "After all, what do I know about _obscure topic x_ and what does anyone else know about my _obscure topic y_?" If mathematics is different, it's only because there's a clear structure of thought that makes it relatively "easy" to decide what needs to be described, to get the gist of a mathematical argument.

    From what I've read on this blog, that clarity doesn't seem to exist in the Humanities. What is worse, because the Humanities seem to focus on what other people have written about other works, it seems to suck the life out of the subjects that graduate students are supposed to be happy about!

    ReplyDelete
  20. What is it with these "Oh, you're a STEM, so you're so smug!" comments? When a Humanities person makes a comment that a reason doesn't apply to them, no one says to them "Stop being so smug!"

    I, for one, am here for a reason, and it's NOT because graduate school was all peaches and roses for me! I've continued reading this blog because it *resonates* with me: in many ways, this blog echos the problems I had to deal with; and in others, I see how the reason doesn't apply to me, but can see how the reason *could have*.

    That, and I like to compare and contrast personal experiences. If the STEM disciplines are different, then people ought to know how; if *individual experiences* are different, then people ought to know about those too!

    I suppose I'm also still here, because I find the train wreck we call "Higher Education" to be rather fascinating to watch. And it helps to dispel any thoughts of "Perhaps I should reconsider, and try to become a professor! Or at least an adjunct..." (Yes, I still get those thoughts every once in a while...)

    ReplyDelete
  21. Epsilon Given asked: What is it with these "Oh, you're a STEM, so you're so smug!" comments?

    I'm also STEM (you are an "M" and I am an "S").

    I think I can explain.

    There have been a number of STEM folks on this blog who have (in a somewhat demeaning way) told the humanities folks on this blog that it is all their fault that they aren't happy because they should have gone to school in a "real" subject on the STEM side of the institution.

    This typical STEM arrogance arises from the fact that our society as a whole treats STEM folks like a secret priesthood that knows all and can do all. Eventually all the accolades go to our heads and we think we are smarter than everybody else just because we know what a partial differential equation is. And, society pays those of us in the priesthood more money, and the money makes us think we are better than everybody else.

    Needless to say, the typical STEM attitude combined with some of the remarks previously posted on this blog have a few of our colleagues in the humanities on a bit of a hair trigger whenever they sense a bit of hubris.

    Given that our situation on the STEM side of academia is pretty bleak, you can imagine how much more it must suck over on the humanities side. We, at least, have a ready escape route into industry. Not all of our colleagues on the humanities side have found their escape from the academy yet.

    So, treat with kid gloves. They have good reason to be ticked off.

    ReplyDelete
  22. STEM doctor:
    That was absolutely lovely.
    --Qualitative sociologist on the brink of wising up and dropping out

    ReplyDelete
  23. Amen... I'm an S (as in STEM) with a 4.0 GPA in graduate school, 8 peer-reviewed publications
    (not grey literature) from my Masters thesis and dissertation research and a wealth (10+ years) of college-level teaching experience and there is no job market for me. Zilch. Drop out NOW(!) and do something else, while you still can... It is only going to get worse. Trust me, you don't want to be a full-time adjunct.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Thanks, supportive STEM guy/gal. What I really want to do is write, and I just can't seem to help feeling like, maybe if I just stick it out, the doctoral credential will help with my writing career. Probably ridiculous.

    My dept just sent out a memo with recent "job placements" of our department's alumni. THEY INCLUDED FUCKING ADJUNCT POSITIONS AS "JOB PLACEMENT." Are you kidding me, assholes?? People in my dept only seem to get full time gigs at Shitstick U, and I'm geographically limited to Glamorous Metropolis X, so you know I'm goin' nowhere. I just can't seem to get up the courage to quit, even though I hate it.

    --Spineless Sociology Jellyfish

    ReplyDelete
  25. I was almost embarrassed to admit it, but this reason is why I changed my mind after the MA. I made a few great and supportive friends, but the majority of my thesis days were spent alone at the top floor of the library gazing out the window, or in a sea of chattering people at the coffee shop.

    My parents were kind enough to read the novel I was writing on and my thesis once it was complete. I felt so silly discussing a meaningless thought experiment that took a year to complete. Without some sort of productive accomplishment that I felt proud to share, the loneliness didn't seem worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. It is difficult to over-emphasize the loneliness of grad school. As someone mentioned earlier in the comments, there are all kinds of bad things about all kinds of jobs, but near total isolation is not one of them.

    You're completely alone studying for your comps, and you're completely alone working on your thesis or dissertation. If you want to finish in a reasonable amount of time, you have to be disciplined about isolating yourself as much as possible. It's an unhealthy way to live.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "You're completely alone studying for your comps, and you're completely alone working on your thesis or dissertation. If you want to finish in a reasonable amount of time, you have to be disciplined about isolating yourself as much as possible. It's an unhealthy way to live."

    Couldn't agree more, with the above comment, and the post in general. But I think that there's something special about this kind of loneliness--I can't quite put my finger on it. When I wake up in the morning, with a long day ahead, meant to be spent toiling on my horrible thesis, all I feel is despair. Academic articles and books make me recoil in horror.

    But when I think about the prospect of spending the whole day by myself reading literary journals and working on a plan to develop my own literary projects for non-academic venues (poetry, creative nonfiction), being by myself doesn't seem like loneliness any more--more like an opportunity for focused work and creative experimentation.

    I think what you're doing has a lot to do with it, and academic work is just plain horrible. I would be lonely in a dungeon, or solitary confinement. I wouldn't be lonely hiking in a lush, green meadow by myself, or sitting in a garden all day. Hmmm...

    ReplyDelete
  28. "But when I think about the prospect of spending the whole day by myself reading literary journals and working on a plan to develop my own literary projects for non-academic venues (poetry, creative nonfiction), being by myself doesn't seem like loneliness any more--more like an opportunity for focused work and creative experimentation.

    I think what you're doing has a lot to do with it, and academic work is just plain horrible. I would be lonely in a dungeon, or solitary confinement. I wouldn't be lonely hiking in a lush, green meadow by myself, or sitting in a garden all day. Hmmm..."

    Nietzsche's got some choice quotes, esp. in Ecce Homo, along these lines. He rails against scholars who can't think without a book to talk about and talks about how important going outside is for the creative process.

    I've realized scholarship is just not creative enough, or maybe in the right ways for me. I can't stand to research for my dissertation, but I'm writing a historical novel on the side about the time period I study and I've never done so much research. I actually like it, which surprised me a bit. Still hate the dissertation, but the more creative writing doesn't feel so lonely and hollow to me when I'm researching. Then I share my stories with people who I could never talk about my dissertation to. A little bit of lemonade from some lemons at least. Discovering writing for myself has definitely helped with the loneliness and the general psychological condition of being a disaffected grad student.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Similar experiences here. The mere thought of "researching"/writing the dissertation renders me apathetic. To the point of just laying in bed all day or reading weird blogs on the Internet... All day long.

      But when I started various personal projects, I found myself spectacularly motivated, working 24/7, researching like mad, etc. And this happened not once but multiple times. The main problem is that with the dissertation/ job search hanging above my neck, I find it impossible to pursue any non-academic projects. Those of you in grad school will know the feeling. Reason 79.

      Delete
  29. All I can say is "Thank you".

    Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone in my loneliness. I thought I was going insane! I haven't been a grad student for all that long, but It has been the loneliest time of my entire life!! 4 out of 7 days a week with absolutely no human contact, spent either locking in the library or a computer lab, has been near crippling.

    I consider myself a strong person, one that can handle a lot of stress and a seemingly insurmountable workload, but I need some human interaction to do it! I constantly feel like I'm falling into a deep depression because I'm alone so often. That paired with little to no positive feedback makes me constantly question why I'm here. I try to trick myself into thinking that it's a psychological strategy that they use to weed out the weak...but that doesn't work for very long.

    In a weird way this whole blog has helped to assure me that I'm not alone in my struggle. It actually makes me feel better about my choice to continue with grad school...maybe it's just a sign I'm a masochist ha ha (ha ha?).

    ReplyDelete
  30. "I consider myself a strong person, one that can handle a lot of stress and a seemingly insurmountable workload..."

    I thought of myself as a "strong person" before grad school too (doesn't everyone? I don't think I've ever met anyone who considered themselves a weak person). Not strong enough to defeat a department chock full o' assholes and a city bereft of academic employment, however...

    ReplyDelete
  31. WGSTGrad:

    If you pay me half of whatever you're paying your school, you can drop out and I'll praise you all day long.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Drop out. OCCUPY EVERYTHING.

    ReplyDelete
  33. While wasting your time going to one of the OCCUPY WHATEVER rallies would certainly solve the problem of loneliness, you might simply be trading one problem for another.

    In graduate school, you spend your lonely hours in the library studying what others have said. Your purpose is to find something "new" to say which you can present as your own original thought.

    At an OCCUPY WHATEVER meeting, you spend your collective hours sitting on the ground mindlessly repeating what others say. Your purpose is to be assimilated with the group so that you are no longer capable of having an original thought. Click the SELF OCCUPIED link to view the frightening video.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Wow that is creepy. Just another one of the many herds in our nation of sheep.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I got too bored to watch the whole thing, but I suspect the repeating motif, creepy as it appears to be, may serve as a practical alternative to fancy PA systems (so others in crowd can hear participants' unamplified questions/comments). I regularly attend industry Q & A sessions, and even professionals with microphones don't seem to know how to make themselves heard.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Poster: October 10, 2011 5:14 AM

    I can just see these thoughts running through your head, “I’m a brilliant mind who produces amazing independent thoughts and research- and my sh-t doesn’t stink.”

    If you don’t know how to be part of a group one moment and maintain individuality the next then that’s on you.

    I wouldn’t want to stand idly by or be on the wrong side of history for this one. Its been a long time since the left has made any sort of advancement. I can see if you’re located in the middle of nowhere… but between nyc and philly things have been exciting.

    “one of the many herds in our nation of sheep.”
    This is pointless. I thought we were a nation of rugged individuals?

    ReplyDelete
  37. I live and work in NYC and it really isn't that exciting. The United States is a corporate fascist state and will continue to be so long after the 'rugged' forces of occupation have gone home because it's too cold to sleep outside. The winning side of history is the side that keeps the majority of the voting population relatively well-fed (well, mostly overfed in our case), happy and stupid with electronics and other crap made (in recent years at least) in China that we don't need. In keeping (somewhat) with the theme in this blog, it find pathetic that protesters are complaining about massive ($40-60k!) student loan debt. Try living and going to school within your means. An entire CUNY undergraduate degree costs about $20,000 at today's tuition rate. Programs like TAP do away with a big chunk of that. News flash: NOBODY CARES where you went to college. They really don't. It's also pathetic that Democratic politicians are now weighing in with support for this 'movement.' Talk about taking away legitimacy! To paraphrase Michael Moore (if I recall correctly; he's pretty useless at this point), The only difference between the Republicans and Democrats is that the Republicans tell you that they will screw you and they screw you. The Democrats tell you exactly what you want to hear and screw you anyway. Anyone that thought that the current administration would do anything but perpetuate the corporate fascist state is an idiot. The left has NEVER made ANY sort of advancement in the modern area. It's also funny that the NYC media finds it exciting that the occupation forces are using 'social media' to coordinate activities. Yawn. Go back to class.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anyone interested in commenting on the topic of the post itself--loneliness in academia??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually...........NO!!!!!

      Delete
  39. So its every other random Thursday that 20,000 people gather to make an outright root cause accusation concerning the economy which touches everyone?

    When was the last time unions got together behind anything?

    Why did the speaker of the house and the president make acknowledgements?

    Right now it’s a social movement. If these groups find a way to leverage power and become political things will get interesting.
    This movement is funded and as professional as any other. Its not just going to go away overnight. It’s a slow process. Neoconservatives didn’t just appear overnight. Twenty years ago I would have never thought the gay population would have reached the level of visibility and power they have. Today, you better be careful what you say at work or you might get fired.

    Things change. What’s exciting here is at least it’s a start.

    How’s being bitter working out for you?

    ReplyDelete
  40. I go to school in NYC, and to get back to loneliness in grad school... I can't think of any of my fellow grad students who actually gets to enjoy city life. Most of them are sitting in front of the computer all day doing boring tedious work. Or complaining about teaching (which is especially crappy around here since it takes upwards of an hour to get to whatever campus you are teaching at in addition to the normal adjunct/TA issues).

    Can't remember any time in the three years I've been here stories about interesting shows, people, events, whatever, that people have enjoyed in the city. That's because they are not interacting with other human beings in any capacity and everyone is lonely and sad.

    ReplyDelete
  41. "Most of them are sitting in front of the computer all day doing boring tedious work."

    That's the thing, isn't it? It IS tedious and boring. It's a gorgeous day outside. I want to go out and exercise and breathe the fresh air but a) if I do I'll blow the latest of many pointless deadlines and b) I tan easily, and if I pick up any color I'll get accused (by other grad students, faculty) of living of loafing and living a life of leisure. The best I'll be able to get off with is a sarcastic, "Well, you certainly picked up some color!" Which essentially means the same thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG...I would totally tell them this, "if you don't like my color, turn your eyes to another direction!"

      Delete
  42. Obviously I meant "loafing and living a life of leisure."

    ReplyDelete
  43. Being fearful of picking up a bit of a tan is the perfect example of the isolation that academics enforce among each other. This is certainly over the top, but it's not that big of an exaggeration. Academic culture, in addition to the vacuous pseudo-intellectualism of many academics, is the reason I'm not going on the market. And I'm from a top program: the pseudo-intellectuals are there in full force, and they're crazier. Some have written me off (I've discovered this from other faculty) but no matter: I wrote them and their lonely, isolating lifestyle off years ago. There are better things to do than be miserable for no reason but the illusory carrot on a stick of self-importance and the false dream of total freedom after tenure (think of what you put off, and have to deal with: you're not free from dealing with your the discontents of your past even after tenure...).

    ReplyDelete
  44. "Being fearful of picking up a bit of a tan is the perfect example of the isolation that academics enforce among each other. This is certainly over the top, but it's not that big of an exaggeration."

    Actually, it's not an exaggeration at all. If you knew the assholes I had to deal with, you'd know this is just a mild example.

    Welcome to the sociology department.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Oh I didn't mean to diminish the example. Maybe I hedged too much there (a bad grad school trait I'm working to eliminate). Actually, this summer I started to go out of the house and get some exercise more since I decided I would leave the academy when my diss is finished this year. I got quite a tan. No one really mentioned it except for my friends, but I definitely thought about what it would look like to my committee. Good thing I don't hang around them all that much! But the point is, I know just what you're talking about. It's ridiculous that this happens and pretty sad too. For those of us who have to put up with it but also for those that police this enforced loneliness through passive aggressive snark. It's another reason I'm getting out.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I can somewhat understand the negative grad school feelings. I went through 2 rounds. The 1st time I started right after undergrad and went to a top tier university. I quit after 2 years because I was sick of it and wanted to try working. I worked for the next 10 years got married, divorced, and had a child (in that order). I went back to school in 2004. Although, I was offered funding for school I chose to continue working full-time because I had a mortgage and was a single parent. I had lots of support to help with my son while I was taking classes. I finally finished my Ph.D. in May and am very glad that it's over.

    I'm in my early 40's, gainfully employed outside the world of academia but still in my field and very much enjoy what I do. I definitely think my time in graduate school has been a tremendous help to me, and because I'm a parent, retreating completely from the world was not an option. If I'd been a bit more focused, I could have easily shaved a year or two off my completion time, but I had a lot to juggle outside of class and took long breaks where I did not do much at all.

    I definitely missed out on somethings that my friends were doing, and having the uncompleted dissertation meant that I had a black cloud following me everywhere I went. I'm glad that I have had the weight lifted but do not regret any of the time I spent in grad school, even the 1st round. Financially, I should come out far ahead and intellectually I learned a lot. I also am now expecting child #2 as a mature parent and could not be more pleased.

    If you're focused and working in a field that is relevant to your interests, I don't think grad school is a waste of time. I think constantly working while going to school kept me balanced and engaged. I had lots of support from colleagues, many of whom had already completed their doctorates. I can imagine that my perspective might be different if I were unemployed or never finished.

    ReplyDelete
  47. ^So what the hell do you do? What industry are you in?

    I think this information is kind of important considering the gap between being a researcher/prof in academia and employment in the work world- especially in the humanities and social sciences.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I work in education policy research and program evaluation. My BA and MA are in sociology. I won't qualify as a full statistician but have a pretty strong background in statistics and research methodology. I have spent most of professional life in the private sector but ended a 5 year stint at an urban school district about a year ago. I have done some independent consulting on the side and would eventually like to do a bit more of that.

    ReplyDelete
  49. I think that grad school may be okay for SOME folks like the above, who still like research. The idea of doing research-related anything for a job after either dropping out or graduating sounds HORRIBLE. I will write you a poem for free, but don't try to pay me for research.

    I actually went into this mess hoping to teach, until I found out what little monsters the UGs are. That leaves me with 5 wasted years and a big therapists' bill. I don't think I need a doctorate to be unemployed--I can be plenty unemployed with an MA. Time to quit...

    ReplyDelete
  50. "I am generally a very lonely, shy, quiet reserved person. I'm in the hellish process of finishing my MA thesis wile working retail. Therefore, I am no longer going to classes and seeing peers, the level of loneliness has driven me to a suicidal state a few times. The social interaction I get at work isn't genuine and therefore doesn't help. I have no idea how to meet people in my same age group outside of going to school. I don't enjoy going to bars or clubs, i don't enjoy approaching people. I'm not interested in meeting professionals who are living a totally different life from me. I just want to go back to school and feel like a part of some social group, even if it isn't deeply meaningful. I met a couple of genuine friends at least.

    I'll be honest and say that I'm the ill adjusted, mentally unbalanced person who is perfect for grad school."

    If you just need someone to talk to send me a message.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Oh I thought my email would be connected, my email is MDJanda2@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  52. I was browsing my school library the other day and at one end of the stacks I saw these wire-mesh, cage-like doors. Curious, I strolled among the shelves to where the doors were and saw they were little, locked compartments with a small desk behind. Finally, there was a sign pasted outside that said "For Rental by Doctoral Students Only." I couldn't help but give a wry, bitter smile and see how aptly this image models this reason, as well as Grad school as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
  53. I recently decided to drop out of a PhD program in the art history. I already have an MA from another university. Loneliness, physical and mental health problems, and a loss of interest in my subject have driven me to this decision. In addition to the lack of a job market I realized that there is no prestige or mystique surrounding the degree. There is no mystery in academia; it's largely empty and will never provide any personal fulfillment. I only wish I had realized this two years ago when I was applying to PhD programs. I just want to enjoy life, find a partner, get a decent job, and travel. Good luck to you all!

    ReplyDelete
  54. I am a soon to be graduate student and I have a few questions.. this seems like a good place to ask them...

    first why is it necessary to isolate yourself from people while you are doing your research and paper work? I have been spending years writing my collage papers while hanging out with my family and friends, multitasking between writing, cooking, reading, even taking time to teach my kid sister who is being home schooled... is this really going to all have to change just because I am going to a new program?


    Also is there some kind of rule that would prevent a person from going to school and working at the same time? Besides the fact that school and work are "hard" to do at the same time... I don't care if work is hard, hard work keeps me from being board... which leads to my last question

    I going to guess that this is going to sound really stupid to most people, but I would like to know if there is anyone here who would go to school, just because they were board and had nothing better to do? Or if any of you went into a graduate program for this reason and then ended up hating the program/subject matter later because of this?

    I want to point out that I am not using school as a way to avoid growing up...

    ReplyDelete
  55. To Anon @ 1:27 AM:

    You seem to be living your pre-graduate school years in a healthy environment (you mentioned family, friends, cooking, etc.). That is, you are hanging out with "normal" people.

    When you get to graduate school, your peers will not be normal people (see Reason 50). They will be petty (see Reason 44), they will be arrogant (see Reason 25), they will be self-absorbed (see Reason 64).

    To the extent that you are able to maintain a healthy and normal support group OUTSIDE of the academy, you may not personally go insane.

    I spent most of my time in graduate school hanging out with normal people (many of whom had never even been to college) who lived nearby the college, but were miles away from it with regard to their mindset.

    With each passing year in graduate school, I noticed the ever larger gulf between what "normal" people do with their lives and what "academic" people do with their lives. I survived long enough to get my degree, but I never really learned to fit in with the academic crowd. They are just weird people.

    ReplyDelete
  56. @ 1:27
    MY REPLIES IN CAPS

    "first why is it necessary to isolate yourself from people while you are doing your research and paper work? I have been spending years writing my collage papers while hanging out with my family and friends, multitasking between writing, cooking, reading, even taking time to teach my kid sister who is being home schooled... is this really going to all have to change just because I am going to a new program?"

    THIS IS A COMMON MISTAKE. GRAD SCHOOL ISN'T UNDERGRAD BUT MORE SO. IT'S ITS OWN ANIMAL, AND IT TAKES OVER YOUR LIFE. I'M GUESSING YOU'RE A STEM STUDENT, RIGHT? WELL, I HOPE YOU LIKE SPENDING EVERY WAKING MOMENT IN THE LAB...

    "Also is there some kind of rule that would prevent a person from going to school and working at the same time? Besides the fact that school and work are "hard" to do at the same time... I don't care if work is hard, hard work keeps me from being board... "

    YIKES. MOST LIKELY, YOU WILL BE WORKING IN GRAD SCHOOL. IN A LAB OR OTHER RESEARCH CAPACITY, OR AS A T.A. HAVING EXTRA TIME TO DEVOTE TO OUTSIDE LABOR IS THE EXCEPTION. AND IT IS FROWNED UPON BY FACULTY ADVISORS.

    AS FOR THE "BOARD" ISSUE:

    A) DON'T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL IF YOU'RE BORED. IF THAT'S THE MOTIVATION, JUST GO TO YOUR LOCAL UNIVERSITY LIBRARY AND READ SCHOLARLY JOURNALS. DO IT EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH. IF THIS BORES YOU, THEN GET THE HELL OUT OF GRAD SCHOOL PRONTO.

    B. I'M TRYING TO SAY THIS AS GENTLY AND KINDLY AS POSSIBLE, DO EMPLOY A PROOFREADER BEFORE SUBMITTING ANYTHING TO YOUR COMMITTEE. IT MAY NOT MATTER AS MUCH IF YOU'RE STEM, BUT IT'S "BORED" NOT "BOARD," "COLLEGE" NOT "COLLAGE," ETC.

    ReplyDelete
  57. To Anon @ 1:27 AM:

    I was exactly like you during my undergrad years. It's the crowd around you that will change. You will probably end up working as TA/Research Assistant as I have, and not have that much time to spend with your "normal" friends.

    The majority of people that will surround you won't care about sports or anything outside their topics. When you work in your office at school and dare put some music to feel more "chill", nerds sharing your office will turn to you and say they NEED quiet to find concentration. They won't ever ask you "what's up", because, well, nothing is up with them.

    Of course this isn't everyone. I now made friends with some that are not like that. Normal folks that made it to graduate school if you wish.

    Hope that helps. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  58. It depends. I went through grad school not as a RA/TA but as a member of the university event managing and planning team, using employee tuition waivers. I suggest look for employment opportunities within the university that is NOT RA/TA, you get to hang out with more interesting people.

    I also know of an English PhD student that also works as an assistant soccer coach, again tuition paid as employment benefit with the university.

    ReplyDelete
  59. ^So are these people profs / researchers? B/c a big part of the problem is no jobs.



    …and support you locale occupation.

    ReplyDelete
  60. "When you work in your office at school and dare put some music to feel more "chill", nerds sharing your office will turn to you and say they NEED quiet to find concentration."

    Why should I have to choose between listening to your crappy music and being labeled a "nerd"? Just because you're part of the Distraction Generation? Put on your headphones like everyone else, Selfish Sally/Sammy. I already listened to Lady Gaga the first time around when she was still called "Madonna."

    ReplyDelete
  61. To the person who posted about my spelling errors…
    I am sorry about my spelling mistakes. I have never been and will probably never be, good at English spelling. I don't mind when it is pointed out to me because I try and learn from it.

    You guessed rightly, I am a STEM student…Math and English Lit are my strong points. English grammar and spelling my weakest points, which is one of the reasons that lead me to being a STEM student rather then studying English. The second reason was that my family wanted me to do this so I did what my parents wanted me to do. I feel it is my duty to honor them in whatever way they wish.

    I came across this blog by chance and after reading some of the post it made me wonder what graduate school would really be like. I am in my early 20's, so I am not really worried about my friends starting lives per se with out me or anything like that. I feel like we are all following our own paths.


    Over all I read the comments posted to me and I gave it some serious thought over the weekend, I started class today. I talked with my professors and I worked up a plan….

    I figure there are about 168 hours per week. 35 of those hours are spent sleeping, and it looks like I will need about 36 hours for classes- each of my professors said that they would like their students to put in 10 to 12 hours of time per week. This seems excessive to me, but I will go with it for now. I am planning on about 20-25 hours of work time, 12 hours for one side job and 10 hours for a business that my friend has that I said I would maybe help with( I told my friend it depended on what my classes looked like, I could make this be class or study time if I have too, but I would rather not) , that is 47 hours total. This leaves 50 hours, just over two full days to do whatever I want. To me that seems like I will have enough time to hang out with my family and friends and still do what I want… some of my general studying and work is flexible so I can do that at awkward times when most people wouldn't be up to hang out… or when everyone else is asleep… I also set up a schedule to work ahead in my classes so that will generate some extra time to pre-study for my next set of classes.

    If this works out, then I will get to avoid the problems listed here and still get my degree. However, I am glad that I found this blog and got outside input because it helped me solidify my decision and come up wtih a better plan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let us know how that works out for you. Not saying it wont. But two universal laws of human existence are
      (1)The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often awry,
      And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!
      and
      (2)everything takes longer than you think it will

      Delete
  62. As someone who studied mathematics in graduate school, I had an...interesting...experience with this topic, as I have said above. I had a rather sociable graduate student group, and I was even surprised that one of the people in our group and only just recently completed his bachelors--all this time, I thought he was a graduate student! So we didn't *seem* to be all that anti-social.

    Which is odd, when you consider that these *are* mathematicians we're talking about! :-)

    Having said that, when it came to studying for prelims, we were *supposed* to do so as groups. I almost always studied alone. I am likely one of those people who can do a lot of things alone, and even prefer it (although technically I can feel lonely every now and then, too).

    Now, I *cannot* give you advice on how to find a department--in math, humanities, or any other field--because I stumbled upon it by accident. Indeed, it's the kind of thing that can easily change from year to year.

    Also, I would point out that math is weird: it's a strange blend of scientific and humanities. It's my understanding, for example, that "prelim exams" are common in humanities (and math) departments, but not so much in sciences...yet math is hard-core "proof and truth", more like science (yet science is "proof by study" rather than "proof by logic").

    So take all these things in consideration, and realize that a LOT of the reasons given in this blog, also apply to mathematics. (Indeed, even though I would consider this batch of math students to be "sociable", I also noticed a heavy amount of backbiting and gossip, which I found disturbing, to say the least.)

    ReplyDelete
  63. I wake up everyday with thinking of how lonely I am, and images of suicide. Yeah, I've had them before, but not like this. Not over fucking school. This is my wake up call to get the fuck out.

    ReplyDelete
  64. I have to say, this is one reason I never expected to see on this list. Perhaps I was lucky. I have a PhD from a top-ranked school in my field, in a department that was relatively large and thriving at the time (still thriving, though smaller now) - maybe 10 students within my same concentration, and 60 students total.

    We all hung together. We partied together. I made great friends for the first time in my life. When I got divorced, I had no shortage of people with whom to crash. We studied together, wrote together, shared hotel rooms at conference, drank (A LOT) together, attended each other's defenses, and so on. The building was too small for us, so we were often doubled and tripled in offices, and the computer lab was always jammed. This only added to the sense of camaraderie.

    I can't imagine having to do that and feel alone. If your fellow grad students are going through the same experience as you, learning the same things as you, why wouldn't you bond with them? Why would you not work together? Why would you not share what you learned with others? Perhaps my experience left me naive. My school was in a hip little town, and I was enrolled full-time, so maybe that makes the difference. There were times when I hated grad school as much as anybody, but loneliness was never one of the reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  65. ^6:04:

    I think we went to the same grad school. I've been reading through this list all day and this is the one item I cannot relate to. In grad school, I made lifelong friends with whom I explored our hip town, threw themed costume parties, bunked at conferences, had beers and coffees and long chats about both our field and being single women--kind of like Sex and the City for academics, with a lot less fluff. Maybe I was lucky, too. For what it's worth, I'm also a shy, sort-of awkward person by nature, and grad school was really the first time I busted out of that (and have retreated back into it since starting adjuncting, unfortunately).

    I will hang onto this one item out of a hundred as small justification for the wasted years.

    ReplyDelete
  66. i dated a couple of men that we grad school students and i find that most of them were looking for sex. all they wanted was to have sex. i guess they wanted a release or to release some tension of all the stress they had in grad school

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Soo.... like almost all men? If a man dates a woman he wants sex sooner or later.

      Delete
  67. I am about half way finished with my MA in English. All I have to say is WHAT THE FUCK. Ridiculous expectations, incredibly boring topics (save for a few classes), and sitting in class listening to profs talk for HOURS about something you learned in UNDERGRAD CLASSES or even better...THE REAL WORLD.

    I am jumping through hoops to become certified for a job; however, something is seriously wrong with a graduate system... can't we just pass a test??

    I am presently in class right now. 9 AM-1 PM. I have sat my ass in this chair for the past four hours... on PINTEREST because it is so god awful I have to take mental vacations.

    ReplyDelete
  68. Even the most "collegial" programs can be lonely as hell. I'm ABD now, and after trying to be friends with my fellow grad students for several years, I finally woke up and realized something: I don't like them! And I have a sneaking suspicion (confirmed, sadly, in most cases) that the ones who acted like they liked me were just using me or trying to get close enough to dig up dirt.

    So many blogs, grad students, and profs will blather on about how you'll make some of your best friends in grad school, but that has NOT been my experience. Grad school has been really lonely for me, and my best friends are still people I knew long before I started grad school. For a long time as a grad student you're working too hard to meet anyone new outside of school, so you try to make friends with your coworkers. Then you realize what it takes most people time and hard experience to learn: Coworkers are rarely if ever capable of being true friends.

    Bottom line: It's really easy to let people make you feel like you're abnormal if you have a hard time making good friends in grad school, but here's the reality: They're your coworkers, not your friends! And that's okay! Trying to force it isn't doing you any favors and in the long run it might make you lonelier, more depressed, and feeling like you're an antisocial oddball, when in reality it's probably not you at all. My two cents? Save your energy for people outside of work who can appreciate you for more than your sharp mind and hard work (and more importantly, who won't come to envy or hate you for them).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I made some pretty good friends in grad school. Not my best friends, but good. I did meet the best girlfriend I ever had.

      Delete
  69. Sadly, I relate to this way too much even as an undergrad STEM. My pool of old friends has dwindled over the past 3 years as people graduated / transfered, and I didn't put aside time to find more.

    Instead, I have become more and more absorbed in my major - I hang out with literally one person outside my major on occasion, and nobody inside my major because its really small and I see enough of the same few people as it is. Everyone else has outside people to hang out with, but I don't.

    Also, I know about avoiding research because thats what I'm doing now and am being pushed to publish a paper. It's really hard to motivate yourself when the only thing going on in your life is your work, and even that (classes) is already screwed up.

    At least I feel well prepared for grad school : a) build outside department social connections through a hobby of some sort. b)exercise c) along the lines of a&b aggressively guard time for yourself d)it's only worth doing it if you really love your subject and do things to prevent misery

    I am hoping that by putting myself ahead of my studies, I won't burn out like I have done as an undergrad. And it might even improve the quality of my work.

    ReplyDelete
  70. In a BMS program, first year, and it's incredibly lonely. I have maybe an hour max of non-science human interaction a day (trying to cram conversations in between classes), but other than that it's me, my studying, lab rotations, and (in the evening) my SO. The funding situation for my department isn't that great either, so the chances of me getting put into a lab way outside of my interests/desires is very high. I'm giving it this year and then switching to a CLS program at the same school if I still feel as miserable/exhausted/unintelligent/lonely as I do now.

    ReplyDelete
  71. This sounds more like law school. And I left law school for grad school in psychology. For me, I fought through the isolation because I made great friends in school and at each practicum placement. I got to do hands-on clinical work with patients and clients. The research, yes. Lonely, isolating, dreadful at times. But I also enjoyed collaboration. It's only 5 years out of a lifetime. Sure, some friends and family will not share in your struggles or have much interest. But the new friends you make in grad school also serve as a support system.

    My relationship did fall apart. But not because of grad school. Because we grew apart and we did not commit the time and energy to make it work. I would not discourage others from going to graduate school. Few people already do. Despite the inherent challenges, the rewards and the opportunities make up for it tremendously.

    ReplyDelete
  72. TRUE TRUE TRUE!!

    I am an extremely extraverted person. However, I also enjoy certain solitary pursuits, especially reading, and this trait, among others, led me to the fatally erroneous conclusion that grad school would suit me.

    The loneliness drove me batty. That I was cut off from both professors and undergrads as potential sources of friendship, as the Mr 100 Reasons notes, became glaringly clear to me within a few weeks. It was especially excruciating because I was approaching forty, with no girlfriend, no wife, no children. Looking back on it, I realise that people actually avoided me...what a loser they must have considered me, doing a history doctorate at that age. If I had been an independently rich gentleman scholar, that would not have been so bad, but it was quite clear that I was on the typical penurous budget.

    Equally pithy are Mr. 100 Reason's observations about one's cohort; mine, indeed, scattered to the four winds the instant a seminar ended. Two or three times a semester, we did have gatherings at some of the more congenial professors' homes, but these were no less boring and prone to endless posturing and preening than the seminars themselves or other functions. Friendship, assuming one even wanted it with these cretins, was out of the question.

    This Reason describes me to a T. The college town where my R1 was located wasn't bad, but it wasn't as grand as it fancied itself. The coffee places mostly sucked. I invariably spent hours at three or four of them, desperately trying to focus on my work or upon the 65 mid-term essays I had to grade, all of which had to answer the same two examination questions. Despite my extraverted nature, and the fact that I came from a conventional white, middle-class upbringing, virtually every attempt I made to reach out and make friends failed abysmally. Nothing, indeed, to be gained by the company of grad students...I would have been far more appealing as a representative of the Manson family. Occasionally I used to go to the undergrad-type pizza and beer joint, which was pretty good, but I could never get anyone to talk to me!

    Weekends were the worst. I lived alone, of course, and quite often, between the last seminar Thursday afternoon and the first one late Monday morning, I didn't speak to anyone except perhaps a cashier at a grocery store (or coffee place).

    And as for diversity...I was the only person in my cohort who had worked at a real job elsewhere and had been in the military. Both of those traits were quickly turned against me too. Despite my very solid performance, and the enormous amount of reading and I writing I did (some of which I did actually enjoy, I have to confess), the truth is that the only good thing about graduate school was QUITTING.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree with you! I was so lonely in grad scool. I worked in a lab in a basement with animals and no windows. It was severly depressing. My favorite day of grad school was my last day of grad school. I felt so free and happy the moment I quit. I only wish I did it sooner.

      Delete
  73. I'm about to finish my thesis. And I'm lonely. But not because of my thesis and the demands of graduate school. I'm lonely because I don't know anyone and don't know how to go about knowing anyone. I have acquaintances in my department and outside. But they're not friends. Whether that's chemistry, the frenetic culture, or the ontology of the scholarly species, I have no idea, which is something I've found myself saying a lot in graduate school. "No, I have no bloody idea.". Seems ironic.

    The point is that, in my case, loneliness doesn't come from scholarship. I'm not some creepy dork. People who know me seem to find me not especially in need of commitment or incarceration. It's just that they know me; there's no way I've discovered to go beyond "knowing" someone (see "acquaintance") to becoming friends. We're all so atomized, silo-ized, surrounded by crowds (if you want that), but unattached, free-floating.

    I'm curious if anyone here may be interpreting this cultural phenomenon as a function of graduate school when it may have its roots elsewhere. It certain doesn't apply to everyone or even most. If you're doing field work in Guatemala, well . . .

    That's it. I love my graduate work; I don't know what else I could possibly do. Even if I don't get a job, even an adjunct niche, it's okay. I'd still do the same thing. I'm just not sure that my species of isolation and loneliness (I'm married to a wonderful human, a scholar) is a function of graduate school. As I wrote, above, I haven't the foggiest idea.

    ReplyDelete
  74. TRUE TRUE TRUE!!

    I am an extremely extraverted person. However, I also enjoy certain solitary pursuits, especially reading, and this trait, among others, led me to the fatally erroneous conclusion that grad school, and the much-ballyhooed "life of the mind," would suit me.

    The loneliness drove me batty. That I was cut off from both professors and undergrads as potential sources of friendship, as 100 Reasons notes, became glaringly clear to me within a few weeks. It was especially excruciating because I was approaching forty, with no girlfriend, no wife, no children. Looking back on it, I realise that people actually avoided me...what a loser they must have considered me, doing a history doctorate at that age. If I had been an independently rich gentleman scholar, that would not have been so bad, but it was quite clear that I was on the typical penurous budget. In a pathetic, false-economy attempt to have more disposable income to eat out and travel occasionally to the large cities 15 and 90 miles away, I lived in a VW van that I parked in an area resident's driveway. Miraculously, I never caught cold, but for two or three months in the wintertime, it fell considerably below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and every night I thought I would go out of my mind.

    Equally pithy are the blog's observations about one's cohort; mine, indeed, scattered to the four winds the instant a seminar ended. Two or three times a semester, we did have gatherings at some of the more congenial professors' homes, but these were no less boring and prone to endless posturing and preening than the seminars themselves or other functions. Friendship, assuming one even wanted it with these cretins, was out of the question.

    This Reason describes me to a T. The college town where my R1 was located wasn't bad, but it wasn't as grand as it fancied itself. The coffee places mostly sucked, as they were surprisingly dirty, hot, poorly run and shabby--yet packed with undergraduates staring into their laptops. I invariably spent hours at three or four of them, desperately trying to focus on my work or upon the 65 mid-term essays I had to grade, all of which had to answer the same two examination questions. Despite my extraverted nature, and the fact that I came from a conventional white, middle-class upbringing, virtually every attempt I made to reach out and make friends failed abysmally. Nothing, indeed, to be gained by the company of grad students...I would have been far more appealing as a representative of the Manson family. Occasionally I used to go to the undergrad-type pizza and beer joint, which was pretty good, but I could never get anyone to talk to me!

    Weekends were the worst. I lived alone, of course--by my reckoning, the van's interior had about 60 disposable square feet, and the front seats were stacked with books. Quite often, between the last seminar Thursday afternoon and the first one late Monday morning, I didn't speak to anyone except perhaps a cashier at a grocery store (or coffee place).

    And as for diversity...I was the only person in my cohort who had ever worked at a real job elsewhere and had been in the military. I am certainly not a blue-collar person, but compared to this lot I was Paul Bunyan: I doubt any of them could have completed a simple rewiring or plumbing job. My prior experience in the real world and in the military was quickly turned against me, too. My academic performance, if not brilliant, was certainly solid. For one thing, I was the only person in the cohort who passed two departmental language exams within the first three weeks. Some students (or "candidates") in our department languished for years, for the usual reasons, but also, in some cases, because they could never get up to speed with a second foreign language. Despite my superficial successes, and the enormous amount of reading and I writing I did (some of which I did actually enjoy, I have to confess), the truth is that the only good thing about graduate school was QUITTING.

    ReplyDelete