Monday, February 13, 2012

78. It takes a toll on your health.

Graduate school is hard on your mental health (see Reason 68), but it is also hard on your physical health. As a grad student, you spend a long time in relative poverty, and healthy living and poverty seldom go hand-in-hand. Your diet is more likely to consist of cheap processed foods than wholesome fare. Your bus rides are especially crowded during the flu season. Your workplace, the college campus, is a notoriously effective environment for the spread of illness. You spend most of your time sitting. And if you are lucky enough to have health insurance, it probably leaves you at the mercy of the student health center.

Especially harmful is the effect that graduate school has on sleep. When you’re faced with a combination of unstructured time (see Reason 61) and endless work (see Reasons 39 and 62), you’re often working when you should be sleeping. On those occasions when you have to meet a deadline, the situation is only made worse. How much sleep do you suppose a teaching assistant gets during a week when she has to read, comment on, and grade 100 undergraduate papers? In college, you might have been able to get away with too little sleep and eating poorly, but your body can only take so much. Graduate school can easily drag on for a decade (see Reason 4), and in the meantime you’re not getting any younger.



79 comments:

  1. You forgot that loneliness has a huge impact on health (reason 69 http://100rsns.blogspot.com/2011/10/69-it-is-lonely.html)

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  2. This reason is spot on. Physical and mental health can worsen in graduate school.

    http://www.universityaffairs.ca/speculative-diction/phd-education-and-mental-health-a-follow-up/

    But it'll pay off when you get that dream job as a tenured prof, right?

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  3. The same can be said about working for a living.

    This is not unique to graduate school.

    Thanks to our economic depression, people are unable to find jobs which they can actually make a decent living on. So poverty, lack of health insurance, sitting on crowded busses during flu seasons....same thing happens to regular people.

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    1. Can we just assume that this argument is made about every thing posted here? I get that you think there's nothing unique about academia and that every thing mentioned here is just the same every where else. But these generalities are pretty much useless, so why bring this same thing up every single time? You don't think grad school in the humanities and social sciences is that bad (though you clearly don't have much firsthand experience of it: this is an assumption I have no problem making on the evidence of your statements in these comments).

      That's fine, but this blog is about providing examples of things that prospective grad students might not know. There are many many hidden problems behind the facade of academe, and this blog is about exposing them. People in academia make the same arguments you're making to justify the many crazy things that go on there. Students listen to them, without realizing that these people have no idea what work is like outside academia (just as you perhaps have no idea what goes on in humanities and social science departments). This blog is an antidote for that. I'm not sure what you're arguing for on this blog, or why you keep on making the same comment every time. What's the point?

      Delete
    2. @JML

      My point is that there are some things on this blog that basically are unique to academia and graduate school.

      No contest there. I don't have this on every single objection to going to graduate school.

      But there are those things that are in common with the non-academic world. This is one of them.

      I'm aware that humanities and social sciences are out to lunch and not worth going to graduate school for. I got that loud and clear from this blog.

      But remember, this is supposed to be 100 reasons why one should not attend graduate school. These reasons should include ONLY those reasons that are unique to graduate school.

      If one is going to have Problem X in both academia and in the real world, it is not a reason for not going to graduate school - it is something that is an unavoidable reason. In other word, if I didn't go to graduate school I still would have to deal with problem X.

      Here's a test.

      If I don't go to graduate school, how many of the items on the list will I avoid?

      It will be significantly less than 100.

      Again, the blog owner DOES bring up a lot of great reasons for not going to graduate school. Those reasons I'm not disagreeing with.

      But I think he's stretching now to get to 100.

      Delete
    3. Are you arguing that grad school does not take a toll on your health in ways that other paths one may choose to take in life do not? It's not necessary for a reason to apply exclusively to grad school for it be valid. The question isn't what you avoid by not going to grad school (which I don't think is the mission of this blog anyways), but what effects going to grad school will have on you.

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    4. PhD Accounting...I don't think that this blog is so much "what things are worse in grad school than anywhere else" as it is about "what things are true about grad school that people thinking about enrolling might not realize."

      For someone who's never gone to grad school, the assumption might be that it will be a lot like undergrad. They'll have a lot of free time outside of classes where they can go to the gym. They'll still have good health insurance (since they always had that under their parents or at their previous job). Healthy eating? Well, it's not such a big deal (if you're 21), or else it'll be temporary (not realizing that your "five year" PhD plan can easily stretch into 10 years or more).

      And as we've discussed in a lot of places on this blog, not many people realize the mental toll that grad school will take on you ahead of time. You look at things like "reading and writing as your sole job duties" and "very little scheduled work hours" and don't have a clue that such a combination can ACTUALLY mean "isolation" and "a feeling that you should be working 24/7."

      Before you know it, the feeling that you have no time to go to the gym and/or mental health issues like depression can sneak up on you due to the unforeseen pressures of grad school that have been detailed here or elsewhere. And your health suffers.

      It's not that this is "worse" than the real world. It's that poor health is something people might think they'd be escaping by going to grad school instead of a 9-5 office job. In reality, though, that's probably not the case.

      Delete
    5. Part of the point of this blog is to reflect on the fact that many people go to grad school with an idea that it has little to nothing in common with the real world and provides an escape from regular work world things like financial insecurity, sickness, corruption, exhaustion, loneliness, drudgery, and so on.

      These kinds of posts illustrate to the starry-eyed undergrad that they can't escape many of the crappier aspects of adult life by hiding in the ivory tower. It IS just the same as a "regular" job, in many ways - except it for the parts that are even worse.

      Delete
    6. "But these generalities are pretty much useless, so why bring this same thing up every single time? You don't think grad school in the humanities and social sciences is that bad"

      I have to agree with PhD Accounting that reason #78 is more of a personal decision. Fresh or frozen vegetables at the store are not that much. I eat a lot of frozen veggies, potatoes, & chicken that I make various recipes with. Pretty cheap, reasonably healthy, not too time consuming, & lasts in the freezer. Cheaper than bags of chips in a lot of cases.

      You can be unhealthy & have poor time management (bad sleep habits, drinking, smoking habits, etc...) in any career.

      Furthermore, is grad school "all that bad?" It depends on who you ask. Perspective is very important here. Academic job or not, the overwhelming odds are that someone with advanced degrees of any type WILL have a better chance at a middle class lifestyle than someone with a hs diploma only. I just had my 10 year hs reunion. As a freakin' adjunct, I'm doing better than most of my high school cohort. I went to a fairly "rough" school, 85% minority, where only about the top 10-15% of the class was college material at all. Most of them are lucky to be living on their own, working dead-end jobs, with a few kids. A bunch of them would trade with me. Yeah, some of them are doing better than me, but that's like 60 or so out of the 400. I'm still way above the curve.

      But compared to richie-riches, yeah, I'm not doing so hot and grad school looks like a massive life mistake. However, I think people in that position need to take a step back and look at how fortunate they are.

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    7. @Anonymous 10:15
      "Are you arguing that grad school does not take a toll on your health in ways that other paths one may choose to take in life do not?"

      No. It is precisely that this same problem exists outside of grad school and inside of grad school means that it is irrelevant for decision making.

      Think of it this way.

      Would the cost of bus passes be a factor if you're paying for a bus pass to go to work and go to grad school? Should "You have to pay for a bus pass" be one of the 100 reasons?

      Of course not.

      Or how about "You have to pay rent for an apartment" be added as one of the 100 reasons? You'll have to pay one for on-campus housing or off-campus. You have to to pay rent even if you're going to work.

      If something is in common inside and outside of grad school, how is it a reason NOT to go to grad school if you're having to deal with this issue anyway?

      Delete
    8. @PhD Accounting
      This is faulty reasoning, and your premise is flawed. Let me know if I'm misunderstanding you, but I think what you are trying to say here is that "it takes a toll on your health" applies to graduate school and the real world equally. If so, you are overgeneralizing. There are non-academic entry-level options available to many college graduates for which 1) they are compensated more fairly for their work (i.e. at all) and 2) they have access to decent healthcare. Both of these things are intricately tied to good health, and I am not aware of a single graduate program that provides a salary or insurance policy comparable to, say, a hospital/ oil company/ corporate office/ etc. Additionally, non-academics often enjoy a more structured work schedule, which is conducive to better health because one can make plans to go to the gym at specific and consistent times rather than be at the mercy of exams and arbitrary deadlines that cut into personal time.

      I'd also like to address the "bus pass" analogy with another analogy:

      Suppose there are ten glasses of water on a table. Some unknown number of the ten have been poisoned. Say that I know (from personal experience) that the glass on the far right is poisoned and someone tries to drink from it. Should I:

      1. Say something, giving them the CHANCE to select an untainted glass.

      2. Say nothing, thinking they will probably just pick a poisoned one anyway.

      The answer, to me, is pretty obvious.

      I think that is what this blog is doing -- saying something. Sure, the economy sucks right now, but people in graduate programs who had the option of doing anything else are almost universally worse off, at least in the short term. #78 makes a valid point. You may end up being miserable outside the ivory tower as well, but there are certainly healthier ways to spend your twenties, let alone any other stage of one's life.

      Delete
    9. JML, do you actually believe, with all the varying implementations of diction and style, that this blog has been written by only 1 person?

      Delete
  4. This is true. I've seen some friends even develop long term illnesses, one with serious anxiety problems that are physically impairing, an another with acid reflux (developed in advance of prelim exams). An overwhelming number of grad students are on anti-depressants.

    The pressure to get a job is immense when you are trained for a single job when there are so very few available and have the mentality that this is your only shot, and that you can't get a job outside of academia without going to law school or business school (these people are addicted to school, buying in wholesale to the idea that every job you apply to must have been anticipated by direct vocational training in the discipline). This affects people mentally, and leads them to do crazy things to their health.

    Another thing that shouldn't go unmentioned is that grad students drink. A lot. While we may abhor undergraduate binge drinking, it's not uncommon to see grad students getting lambasted.

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    1. I've graduated already but I still see my old cohort about 4x a year because I'm still living in the same town. One thing I've noticed from hanging out with them at our favorite local bar is that there's a real difference in seeing someone who's 21 drinking as much as they possibly can and someone who's 31 doing the same. The former always strikes me as youthful hubris and foolishness, but the latter just smacks of drinking to numb the pain. It is quite gruesome to watch.

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  5. This is one of the humiliating aspects of gradschool life. It's one of those things you don't think about at the beginning when you're full of anticipation. At first, the deprivations look like minor inconveniences or even freedoms, but when you wake up on the floor of the 24-hour library one morning, you start to realize how insane your life is.

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  6. However, as a graduate student you can probably take advantage of student health and fitness programming and facilities for either no or little charge. It may be included in your student fees. You have to take the time to schedule yourself to go a few times per week for your own physical and mental health. Campus recreation facilities are often excellent quality and usually open very long hours.

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    1. There are SO many fitness/recreation options at my university, along with low cost or no cost peer nutrition consultation programs, and super low cost massages. We have an awesome gym with an amazing pool, and a large counseling center. And yet no one I know uses any of these facilities or services, ever. They complain about aches and pains and social anxiety and so on, but they won't use the services, even though they know they are there because they promote them to their own students. Sad. I for one love the pool and it's gotten me through many bad semesters.

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    2. My school has first-class fitness facilities that I pay for every year in my fees. I NEVER use them for one simple reason: my students are there! If I were a great athlete who looked amazing in tights, maybe I wouldn't worry about it, but I'm not. I don't want to look like a fool in front of my students.

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    3. @9:19 You should go anyway! I went to the gym almost every day when I was in college, and I'm sure I was around professors and TAs all the time, but there was only one occasion on which I actually noticed...and that was because the guy stood in front of my treadmill and waved at me for long enough for me to recognize him outside of his three-piece suit, as the professor whose lectures I'd attended faithfully, twice a week, for the previous semester. (And on that occasion, I'm pretty sure *I* was the mortified one, given that I was two miles into my run, sweaty, and wearing short gym shorts and a tank top). So if you dress up for class, it's entirely likely no one will recognize you! And even if they do, I doubt they'll care.

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    4. Anon 12:48 here. I agree with the PP that you should just go and not worry about that. Most people are so involved in their own workout they are not noticing others at all. It can be a problem here on campus. I know too many F/S who will not use our awesome facility because of working out in front of students. It is more difficult in the pool or the group fitness classes versus just coming in to use the cardio and weight equipment.

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    5. Just go work out and dont worry about that. Working out will relieve stress and getting past that concern...well..there goes a little more stress down the drain. Win win for your health

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  7. This is a weaker post IMO. Personally, I was never so healthy as I was during grad school. As a student, I had access to a a gym on campus, paid for with student fees. I also could go there pretty much go at any time of day, and for as long as I wanted. Lots of time to also run and bike during the day. And I had more time to shop and cook, which meant I ate better meals. It doesnt cost a lot to eat well if you have ample time to shop for deals and to prepare meals.

    In my current non-academic job, I don't have these luxuries. I'm lucky if I can get a 45 min workout in Mon-Fri. And dinner has to be on the table in under an hour after I get home.

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  8. I agree that it is worth taking the time to cook real meals in grad school instead of eating processed junk, and that this can improve matters considerably. If you make large amounts of something that can be reheated for a few days, it's not that hard to do. The gym business is more complicated. Not all student fitness centers are free. They also tend to be overcrowded, and you will have to compete with numerous undergrads just for a lousy twenty minutes on the treadmill. So if you can't afford a private gym (and most people can't) you may be out of luck.

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  9. I also believe that this is one of 100's weaker posts.

    And it's not that I don't agree that graduate students are some of the least healthy people you will find... It's just that I don't think it's for the reasons listed.

    As a graduate student I make between $24,000 and $28,000 a year. (Just stipend.) That is enough to buy fresh food + the extras (coffee, red wine). I also have free access to a world class gym. I also have excellent health insurance. I didn't know how excellent till I recently landed in the hospital for four days. Insurance paid $7600 of the $8000 hospital bill. And honestly, I have plenty of time. The one section I teach is capped at 16 students - which means that I enjoy teaching and don't spend much time doing busy work.

    No, not all graduate programs offer these things... but you shouldn't be applying to the ones that don't anyways.

    The problem as I see it is not that life as a graduate student is necessarily physically demanding. It's the "delayed adulthood" thing.

    You get a bunch of 25-35 year olds who do not regulate their own sleep patterns, drink like fish, won't learn to cook, won't exercise, and live in filth (often). Oh... and they also have intimate relationships that more closely resemble those of 18 year-olds than those of adults. Oh... and it's only in the humanities that I have personally been able to find educated upper class people that still chain smoke.

    Granted, there are healthier and less healthy subcultures. Students in my MA program were unbelievably unhealthy. I literally believe almost everyone in that program was either an alcoholic, anorexic or binge eater. I never saw another person from my program at the gym. Ick. People in my PhD program are much healthier, even though most of them are men. Lots of vegetarians, lots of gym rats.

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    1. Interesting observation about smoking. There are a surprising number of smokers among humanities grad students. Hadn't thought about this before. It's one of many destructive behaviors.

      In the new Charles Murray book about social class that's getting so much attention right now, smoking is mentioned as a clear class divider. Guess grad students never got the memo.

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  10. Wish I could have been studying in the programs of the previous posters, wow.

    As for me, I was dead ass broke during undergrad & my terminal master's programs. My school was in the inner city and the two nearest major grocery stores, no exaggeration, were both 2.5 miles away. Hard to get to frequently without a car, using public transportation. Wish I could have traded my Ramen diet for what they were making.

    In terms of the school gyms, I wish mine were open the hours of the previous posters. Bad hours, overcrowding, outdated facilities without much circulation. Maybe it's that I did not go to a government/public school and they did. Hope they enjoyed getting time in at the gym whenever they wanted at taxpayer expense.

    Plenty of time for biking/running? Well, it's hard to run anywhere safe if you're in the inner city. As stated elsewhere on this blog, when you have an unquantifiable, unmeasurable amount of work ahead of you, even setting aside time on a regular, daily basis for such things seems out of reach.

    And the above seems particularly so for the humanities. I would guess that STEM is a little easier in that most of their knowledge is quantifiable.

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  11. Wow, I'm impressed by all the healthy posters on here... I'm a STEM student, and yes technically there is plenty of flexible time. Exercise and healthy eating could be worked in given good planning (for those who are lucky enough to have cars or easy access to a gym and store.) But I think anon 4:22 above hits the nail on the head with: " As stated elsewhere on this blog, when you have an unquantifiable, unmeasurable amount of work ahead of you, even setting aside time on a regular, daily basis for such things seems out of reach." It's hard to make yourself do these things when you know you "should" be working on your proposal, research, etc. This is exacerbated by the toll grad school takes on your mental health and general energy levels. I could make time to cook... but the energy and the will is very much lacking.

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    1. Oh god yes, the guilt I felt every time I did something that wasn't directly related to polishing off my enormous reading list was extreme. I stopped being able to have fun and became very depressed and anxious.

      Go to the gym? But then I'm not studying. What am I going to tell my professor, that I didn't get the work done because I was doing something else? Something for me? And face all the "she just doesn't have what it takes ..." shaming, pity stares from the other grad students, being dropped from the prof's good graces, etc.?

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    2. Yeah - I don't think some of the posters here that have a high stipend and immense flexibility are appreciating the factor of external demands - such as professors. When i say demands, I mean emotional and psychological demands that some take from you as a student. I've seen a professor shower her male students with fellowships (whether they deserved it or not) while she held a much higher standard to her female students. That can also be said of how some professors treat students of color etc. I've seen people get shut down in class (even when they had an excellent point) - and this most definitely has had an adverse effect mentally and emotionally for many of those students.This all affects our physical, mental, and emotional being, which in turn affect how we are able to operate in our daily lives - including cooking or going to the gym. It's tragic really.

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  12. "As a graduate student I make between $24,000 and $28,000 a year. (Just stipend.)"

    Wow! That's more than $10,000 more than I made after topping out on my department's stipend ladder last year. I go to the biggest and most prestigious university in a very expensive city. Rent ate up 60% of my income last year, and I was sharing a place with three other people.

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  13. Grad students have middle class aspirations and a middle class mindset, but in a lot of respects they're part of the lower class. Yeah, they've probably traveled abroad and shop at Whole Foods more often than Wal-Mart, but when you're broke, you're broke.

    Maybe you're going to Italy for an archeological dig this summer, but right now you're riding home on a bus with your Whole Foods bag next to a lady talking to herself. When you get back from Italy, you'll be sitting on the same bus. Reality bites.

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    1. This reminds me of something that I've been thinking a lot about lately. The "information society" is supposed to be one in which the "cognitive elites" thrive in a knowledge-based economy. They supposedly run the country because they have and control knowledge.

      The "cognitive elites" are defined as much by their habits as by their jobs. They read the New Yorker and the New York Times, listen to NPR, attend symphonies and ballets, visit art museums, etc.

      Well, I do all of those things, but I only made 10k last year. No one is going to mistake me or anyone in my cohort for the "cognitive elite." I've known grad students who were on food stamps. We're in a cognitive cul-de-sac.

      Sometimes I feel like I'm a living embodiment of the divided self. I have this image of who I am or who I'm supposed to be, but that's not what I really am. I made 10k last year. What am I?

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    2. I think it's not so much the "cognitive elite" as the "credentialed gentry".

      As with any gentry, there are hangers on, who want to be at the centre of that life more than anything.

      They'll go into debt, waste years of their lives and pass up potentially more lucrative, but less "genteel" walks of life.

      I think the problems come from assuming that the world of the unversity/credentialed gentry has any more basis on merit than the outside world. (My experiences say the opposite is true.)

      It also comes from an assumption that we are smarter than anyone else; that we really are an elite. If we're really that smart, why are we in this mess? Why didn't we check the number the govt and universities gave us?

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  14. As a PhD student in Germany I had a very unhealthy lifestyle. I never went to the gym, I spent whole nights without sleeping, I became a binge eater and began drinking, mostly because my advisor sexually abused me. I paid for counselling, because the support service on campus didn't recognize how serious my problem was. Therefore, I wasn't able to save any money. After three years, I completed my dissertation, but it was rejected by the PhD committee. I was very close to committing suicide. I have been unemployed for two years, I can't work on that dissertation anymore, and I am still trying to get over that horrible phase in my life.

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    1. To Lucrezia,

      PhD is not the whole world and definitely not worth your life. The future is full of possibilities, and you can and will find yours. Don't give up! Go prove them wrong!

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Anonymous 04:33 AM. You're right. I have to find a new path in my life, but it's difficult because of my past experiences and because I really wanted to have an academic career. At least, this blog points out the disadvantages of the academic world, and I feel I'm not missing out on something great.

      Delete
    3. Lucrezia, you're not alone. When you're in grad school, it's easy to forget that the world is SO MUCH BIGGER than academia. It's easy to let the madness crush you. It's all madness. It's stupid, meaningless madness. You're not missing anything.

      Delete
  15. Outsider here:

    The only thing healthier about law school is that it lasts a well-defined six semesters. If anyone is even starting to think about maybe considering the possibility of registering for the LSAT, a piece of advice:

    Don't.

    Become a line cook at Denny's instead; the net income is better and you work just 40 hours a week.

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    1. I would also add to Anonymous 8:20's comment:

      Google "shitlaw" and see if law school is worth it.

      Unless you're T14 AND your grades are top notch - it is not worth going to law school.

      "100 reasons" should put THAT as a great reason.

      Delete
  16. Before starting my Phd I was a very healthy dude. I exercised about 1:30 every single day of the week, had a stressful but relatively healthy work-life balance. I was also flexitarian,i.e, I was ovo-lacto-vegetarian most of the days, with eventual portions of meat twice a week.
    When I started my Phd everything changed. I was so busy that in order to find time to workout and run I was waking up at 5:am so i could hit the gym at 5:30 before everyone elses. But then, I was working until midnight in order to grade assignments, do my own assigments and do research. I soon stoped eating healthy, because i didn't have time to cook my own food. Soon after I was getting very strong abdominal pain, that was initially thought to be Reflux. Then one day, I could not walk anymore, the pain was just to strong. Then they realized I had had a block clot due to extreme amount of hours sitting working, very probably. Do you think I got even a call from my Supervisor when I was sick in the hospital? No, he requested an urgent meeting to deal with my lack of progress!! I moved to another country, had few friends, the entire experience was devastating.

    To this day I'm still behind on my work because of the months with pain I had afterwards, do you think anyone cares?

    This is what grad school do to you.

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    1. Yeah, this is the best. I didn't exactly expect a bouquet of flowers after my surgery, or even a $2.50 card, but an email from a single committee member would have been nice...

      Delete
  17. No, this is what you do to yourself while in grad school. Grad school does not force you to neglect your health, never leave a desk, stop eating healthy food, become alcoholic, etc. These are all choices that students make for themselves, whether they know it or not. Obviously, bad decisions abound while in grad school (how else did we get there). But I sense more than bit of hyperbole in some of these posts.

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    1. Grad school is a toxic environment. It's not that way because of bad personal decisions. The deck is stacked against you from the moment you start until the day you get tenure.

      Taking care of yourself takes time, energy, and money. When you're teaching, grading, taking classes, studying for comps, researching, and writing, your time and energy have to go to those things or they don't get done. Money is nowhere in that equation.

      Delete
    2. There are toxic environments in the real world. The deck is stacked against you from the moment you start until you get retirement, assuming you can even afford to retire.

      When you're young, and experienced, you're competing against people who have more experience and education than you. So you take a lower salary just to get in.

      When you've got some experience, companies let you go for someone lower salaried, so you have to cut your expectations again and take lower salary.

      When you're older and have lots of experience, you have to not only take a lower salary, but you have to work twice as hard so you're not replaced by someone who is cheaper and younger.

      And should I get into the topic of outsourcing? Third world countries have people who will love your job.

      All this stress takes a toll on one's health.

      Delete
  18. Sure, no one is forcing you to go to grad school. That doesn't mean that we are not forced to be unhealthy when we are being treated and threatened like slaves and expected to work 24/7.

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  19. To Dr. Who? - yes these are choices. But I think part of the point is that the grad school environment creates a mindset in which these choices frequently seem not only reasonable, but necessary (if you ever hope to graduate).

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  20. Another outsider here, but with firsthand experience of how grad school can ruin a body. Let me explain:

    One of my closest friends in high school was a short, skinny female, probably 140 lbs max in weight and perhaps 5'6" in height. Her obsession was English literature... that was the basis of our friendship, actually. Even back then, she knew she would go from high school to a BA in English and on to a PhD program. And even back then, she knew that the possibility of sound employment was slim. Still, it was what she wanted to do, having been around books all her life (her mother was an English professor herself and started her on the classics early).

    We finished high school and went on to undergrad. True to word, she majored in the subject, with a fantastic record and wonderful recs, a pet of her department. During that time we kept in touch via email, and occasionally I would receive a message with a less-than-chipper tone; but often an encouraging reply was enough to brighten her up.

    If memory serves me correctly, she went straight from undergrad to her (combined MA-)PhD program. And I think it was around the middle of her second year that I received one particular email, about perhaps dropping one wrong word to her advisor which prompted said advisor to drive her to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

    We've seen other again, some 10 years after this has happened. The toothpick classmate I once had now more resembles a balloon. Her teeth have grown loose since starting grad school. She took (takes?) anti-depressants and I believe another medication for her blood pressure. When she holds something in the air, her hands shake involuntarily. Needless to say she's no longer in the program.

    Since I too once thought grad school was a smart option, I sympathize with her -- and am very thankful that I didn't go. I am also very thankful to my friend, this blog's author and the commenters for helping me make an informed decision without ruining my health or my life. My useless liberal arts degree is enough of my life wasted (what a huge waste that was!), and I'd like to keep it that way.

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    1. I wish that this story was hard for me to believe. It's not. I feel sorry for your friend. She might have felt free to drop out of grad school sooner if her mom wasn't an English prof. It's usually some kind of external pressure (real or perceived) that keeps people in unhealthy programs for too long.

      Delete
  21. These comments have been interesting. I went from agreeing with the author to disagreeing to agreeing again.
    In many cases, being a grad student *is* actually a better option than just working a whatever job, for many reasons, including health, as we saw from the words of many posters.
    But in the end, I still think that working is a better option (unless, of course, your grad program is actually lucrative in terms of stipends or professional development). Sure, you can work a low-paid job and be just as poor as you would be living on student loans. But your chance of moving from a $15000/yr job to a $30000/yr job is often greater than your chance of moving from grad school to a $30000/yr job.
    Even if that's not the case, a $15000/yr lifestyle from a $15000/yr job is better than a $15000/yr lifestyle built on $15000 in debt.

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  22. There's an epidemic of sitting today. You sit in the car (or on public transport) on your way to work, then you sit all day at the office, sit on your way home, and then sit in front of the TV (or computer) until bedtime.

    As much as we academics like to congratulate ourselves about not being "cubicle drones," I think that this is an even bigger problem for us than it is for the drones. On weekends, my way-better-paid drone friends go out and do stuff.

    My Saturdays and Sundays and holidays are precious work days that I spend on my butt in front of the computer. I do some standing when I teach during the workweek, but otherwise there's not a lot of time to get out of my chair.

    Among writers and academics, the advice about working is always "just put your butt in the chair"! It's pretty ironic if you think about it. The more disciplined you are about keeping your butt in that chair, though, the better your chances of success in this game.

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    1. I would add that chronic sitting is not the only problem, but also chronic sunlight deprivation.

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    2. Weekends? WTF are weekends?

      I learned to think of summer break as my saved-up weekends, because I sure as hell never got a weekend in grad school.

      Now I'm a public school teacher. I teach all day, work all night and in the wee hours in the morning, and work on weekends. Good thing I get summers off - just like in grad school, they're my stored-up weekends. Literally.

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  23. I was really glad to have health insurance as a TA, but as the original post suggests, it required you to go to the campus clinic for non-emergency medical care. The joke was that no matter what was wrong with you, the clinic would give you one of two diagnoses. Either you were pregnant or you had mono.

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    Replies
    1. At my school the docs only checked for strep throat. Since I never had strep throat, they would shrug and tell me to drink lots of fluids.

      Turned out I had fungal sinusitis complicated with bronchitis and needed a nebulization treatment at the local hospital. Driving myself there while blue from lack of oxygen was lots of fun.

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  24. This reason is, perhaps, one that may not apply to all grad students in the same way as the previous reasons. I ate very well in grad school, but it was because I consciously made a choice to do so and, as a result, I DID do 'less' work than may classmates. This, of course, had the effect of making me appear as a less dedicated student (and according to the mentality of work 24/7, I was a less dedicated student). While I was working on my PhD I experienced each of these '78 reasons' and more, and so decided that an academic career was not, ultimately, for me. It was this decision, more than anything else, that allowed me to take time to make sure I stayed healthy. (And, the fact that I went to school in a country with universal healthcare.) Had I not made that decision, I may have given in to the 24/7 work culture and not paid attention to my health, my relationships, my family etc.

    However, while this post seems to highlight the effects grad school may have on one's physical health, the effects on mental, emotional, and psychological health may be more severe. That being said, physical health is not separate from emotional and mental health, and some of the things previous posters have suggested may help to explain how they are linked. Namely, as was pointed out above, once you are in grad school and surrounded by a particularly damaging culture of 24/7 work (punctuated by 'guilty' over-indulgences like alcohol, unhealthy foods, or TV-watching marathons), the mental and emotional toll that takes can put you in a precarious mental/emotional position where you may be less inclined to look after your health (ie; people who are depressed, scared, and/or lack self-confidence do not always make the best decisions for their health).

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    1. You have to have a strong personality to do what you did, which was to choose to do things in your own best interest instead of going along with the gradschool culture. It would be better for everyone if there were more people like you and the culture changed.

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    2. Thanks. I didn't see it that way of course, I still feel like a failure for not organizing conferences, not publishing each chapter of my PhD, not joining committees, etc., and not really 'making' it on this career path. Perhaps one of the reasons that these issues (of effects on one's mental and emotional health) seem so widespread in grad school/academia is the fact that when you're an academic you are an academic through and through. That is, as a grad student/academic you're supposed to identify totally with the career.You are not a person who simply works in academia, you are an academic. I still work as an adjunct (due to a variety of circumstances), even though I knew the career wasn't for me, but once I do make a final break from academia it will be to a career that does not define the entirety of who I am.

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  25. I don't know if it's because academia doesn't select for jocks/beauty queens or if it's because academics don't take care of themselves, but whenever professors are shown on TV it's always startling to see how terrible they look compared to the other people on TV.

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  26. I pulled more all-nighters in college than I care to remember. I wasn't a partier, I was always staying up all night trying to get my work done. I think there was only one time in one class when I turned in a paper that wasn't finished and got a bad grade as a result. I did well enough to get into grad school, but I should have realized that if I had to stay up all night all the time to do the work, then I probably wasn't cut out for it.

    Flash-forward to grad school. Crap. At some point, I hit the wall and couldn't pull all-nighters anymore. That doesn't stop me from pulling them anyway. Sometimes I have no choice. When I have to teach in the morning, those days are THE WORST. So far I've survived, but I can't do as much in as short a time as I could just a few years ago and I have way, way, way more to do now.

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  27. I know some people have written they think this reason is weak, but I disagree. Graduate school's environment and stress are more vicious than my experience in the private sector.

    Before graduate school, I had good blood pressure (Under 110/70). As graduate school wore on, I developed hypertension. The stress I was under (being harassed, developing PTSD, anxiety just from having to check my email (and being threatened for insubordination to not check email and respond daily--no matter what time emails were sent, like midnight)) was too much. I added on 70 lbs. I became too scared to even see a doctor with the student health insurance. I knew it'd be bad, but my life had become so full of bad news and bullshit "mediation" meetings while trying to teach ungrateful students that I couldn't go; I had no time. I managed to go to the counseling services offered, but I used up all the free services in my situation and had to start paying for visits. Being harassed for over a year needs a lot of therapy...

    By the time I went to a doctor for my blood pressure (6 months after leaving the program), the nurse was so frightened by my readings that they wanted to put me in the hospital. I had 140/110.

    I'm doing better now, but I still have nightmares occasionally. I can think of professors and feel my BP go up. There are whole blocks of the city I avoid because it brings up too much anxiety to even go near student areas.

    Sure, a private job can have stress. I didn't appreciate being called by the police to fill out a report about a break-in because the boss forgot to keep his phone on at 2:30am. But, my late night efforts earned me a bonus and the boss's eternal appreciation. I have time to enjoy life, to go for walks, and to do my own hobbies. All of those activities help reduce stress, and I never had time for them during graduate school. The unreasonable demands from faculty, students, and to even touch the program requirements meant more work than was humanly possible unless you were sleeping with a professor or such an Arschkriescher that it merited adding "colonoscopist" to your CV.

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    1. Maybe this is strange, but I am comforted knowing that I am not the only one who has developed email-checking anxiety (heart palpitations). I mostly surround myself with non-academics who think that I am crazy to not want to open my inbox.

      The trouble is, I get the same sort of anxiety thinking about leaving my program, too.

      Delete
  28. Not having health insurance in graduate school was another negative factor for me. We could use the university "clinic" staffed by semi-retired doctors with out-of-date grasps on current health care. I had a couple of significant health problems I couldn't get adequately addressed until after I graduated (and found work in my old, pre-grad school profession). Another grad student in my program got pregnant and had to rely on the university clinic for pre-natal care -- horrors!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you mentioned this, because previous comments imply that all grad students have health insurance. You only get covered if you have a funding package that includes insurance. If you don't have one of those, then you have to buy your own coverage.

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    2. Since grad students have low income, get medicaid. Better than most graduate student insurance plans anyway.

      Delete
  29. Without getting into the nature vs. nurture debate (i.e. Does grad school make people stupid or do stupid people go to grad school?), allow me to offer the simple observation that grad students exhibit some seriously stupid behavior. Nonstop drinking, drug abuse, and loose morals (to put it quaintly) make them the perfect guinea pigs for epidemiological studies of the spread of communicable diseases. Besides, they could really use the extra 15-20 bucks to take part. Can they even afford hygienic parlors for all those butt-ugly tattoos they like to get?

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    1. One of the T.A.'s at my school has a tat so big that her clothes don't cover it. I can't believe that they let her teach like that, it looks so unprofessional. Makes it kind of hard to take her seriously.

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    2. Someone once applied for a TT job in our dept who had a lot of tattoos, including one above the neckline. I think the Committee made up their mind not to hire as soon as they saw the candidate in person.

      Delete
  30. Why can't I just quit this fucking thing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quit reading this blog or quit grad school? They're both depressing, but at least the blog won't steal years of your life.

      Delete
  31. OT: Why are grad students so dumpy? OK, I get that they're poor but anybody can buy decent clothes. They just don't. No kidding about the tattoos. You forgot piercings. When did guys stop shaving? What's up with the almost-beards? They look like they just got out of bed. I took a class from a guy who had bedhead every single day. Some of them look like they make an effort to look nice but half the time their clothes ddon't fit. I feel sorry for them. Teh rest of them make me mad. I'm paying how much to sit there and listen to you drone on and on, and the best you can do is show up in a t-shirt and sandals? Is that how much effort you put into the rest of your job, like grading my work?

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    1. I find it funny how this all changes when students go on the job hunt. They buy an interview suit, and maybe a couple of business casual outfits for wearing during the day for campus interviews. Suddenly they realize how much better they look/feel when they're wearing professional clothes that fit, and when they come back to campus after their interview, they're wearing slacks and button-downs or pencil skirts and pumps all the time, and their hair is clean.

      Their little friends start to dress better too, and there's this nice ripple out effect. It reminds me of when people started dressing better in junior & senior years of high school, to look more adult. The only difference is that grad students only start to do this dressing more adult thing at 34.

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    2. I sure noticed this in grad school when students hit about the 2nd year of doctoral studies. All of a sudden, the 30-something guy in sneakers and t-shirts with silly slogans on the front started wearing a button down dress shirt and leather shoes. I barely recognize many former colleagues people on their facebook photos.

      Of course, many of these "new" clothes will still be worn 20 years later after they become professors and forget what fashion is.

      Delete
  32. I just learned about your blog from a comment posted to an NPR story. It seems like it's in the same ballpark as my own blog (one skeptical of the value of higher education), so I added it to one of my blogroll lists. I look forward to browsing over your archive of posts and comments in the near future.

    If you guys think that earning a PhD. is bad, wait until you learn about the "Scarlet JD" degree and the Law School Scam. Visit my blog to learn more about the sordid legal profession and what's been happening to law school graduates for decades: http://FlusterCucked.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. I was completely broke (no job for six years; grading paid $300/sem.), lived 2 hours from my school, and during comps I slept 4 hours a night and ate fast food because I had a huge reading list. I gained 70 pounds and developed an anxiety disorder.

    I think the people who stay healthy in grad school were healthy to begin with and grew up eating healthy foods. Not all of us grow up eating healthy foods. Some of us grow up eating out of charity baskets.

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  34. I don’t have an GA position, and I have to work two different jobs. Staying up later is always one of my bad habits, as I can't write anything during the daytime. Normally, I sleep about 6 hours in the weekdays and eat fast food, so I gained 10 pounds this year!

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  35. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Russkiy AspirantJuly 6, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    What people need to understand is that the "culture" of grad school is different than any industrial/business job I can think of. Those of us in the humanities should not be surprised when I say that grad students tend to be cynical, bordering on nihilistic. Unhealthy behaviors are reinforced daily when grads talk about how they never get any sleep, eat ramen all the time, etc. -- people complain about it, but they treat it as just what you have to get used to, like being a sleep-deprived, miserable cynic comes with the territory. If anyone even talks about how they get 8 hours of sleep every night, it's like they're a heretic. There's a culture of guilt over taking care of yourself: being miserable and sleep-deprived is a sign of academic determination, and going out of your way to take care of yourself means that you're not doing as much work as you should be.

    As for alcoholism, my department has an interesting dynamic. We have a bunch of Eastern Europeans who drink heavily, but we also have a bunch of Mormons who don't drink at all. Fascinating!

    I'm fortunate in that I happen to have started to give a crap about my health a couple of years ago, so early on in grad school I looked for ways to make sure I was eating and sleeping well. My university has a world-class gym and health center on campus. Grads in our department also pay a negligible amount for health insurance premiums each month, and the insurance plan is fantastic.

    However, even after I realized how great the insurance plan was, I soon found out how difficult it was to take advantage of it. Between teaching and taking my own classes, office hours, and team meetings, I often put off going. I was working so much that I was lucky to get an hour of uninterrupted time to relax at the end of each night, which I made sure to get even if it meant not doing some part of my homework.

    Is free counseling much of a job perk if you have to take advantage of it in order to stave off the stress-induced misery of your job?

    Someone asked why grad students always dress like slobs when teaching. I was one of those naive optimists who tried dressing "professionally" when I taught, but that's a habit that is beaten out of you after a few months, tops. It won't make your students respect you any more, and no one in your department notices, either, so why bother if you're not feeling like it? Grad students are a miserable, overworked bunch, so it's understandable if you see one teaching a class without having shaved for a few weeks, hah.

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  37. For those who say a regular job is just as bad on one's physical health that grad school, I couldn't disagree more. I've done both, and the 9 to 5, even 3 to 11 shifts are not nearly as bad on one's health (I worked in a pizza restaurant too, which is high-stress). At the end of the day, though, you get to go home, put your hat up, play tennis, make love, whatever. You might be physically exhausted but at least it keeps you active, you are interacting with co-workers, your job is usually linear (nothing is as non-linear as grad school), and you feel like you're contributing to society. In grad school it's the complete inverse. My body has completely atrophied, my service speed has gone down by about 15 miles per hour, and I have little desire to exercise or sleep most of the time.

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