Monday, September 10, 2012

86. It is a state of being.

Graduate school is not school in any sense that you have experienced school before (see Reason 47). Nor is it a job, although a job is often part of the bargain (see Reason 7). Graduate school is a way of life. It is all encompassing. From the moment that you begin your existence as a graduate student, you have to worry about your courses, your labor obligations, your faculty committee, your reading lists, your comprehensive exams, and your thesis or dissertation. You have to worry about conferences, publications, and positioning yourself for the perilous job market waiting for you in the distance. You have to worry about competition (see Reason 2). And, more likely than not, you have to worry about money (see Reason 17). You don’t leave any of these worries on campus at the end of the day. They follow you home every evening, they tag along with you on your trips to the grocery store, and they loom at the back of your mind at the beach and at Thanksgiving dinner (see Reason 62). When you enlist in graduate school, you enter a new state of being.

Ironically, this totally engrossing and exhausting experience does not count for much in the world beyond academe. (For far too many people, it does not count for much within academe either.) Americans tend to define themselves by their careers, but graduate students don’t have careers. In the eyes of others, graduate students are defined by what they’re not. Your unkind relatives and acquaintances will call you a “professional” student to remind you that you don’t have a profession. Your work and your worries are every bit as real as those of anyone else, but somehow your “in-between” status renders you a non-entity (see Reason 30). While graduate school is consuming your life, others will regard you as if you were trapped in a state of suspension. Of course, you look forward to a career—a career in academe. But graduate school can only offer the hope of an academic career. It’s an extraordinarily costly roll of the dice. For about half of those in PhD programs, it does not end well (see Reason 46).