Monday, May 27, 2013

90. Virtually no one cares about what you are doing.

In graduate school, you often feel alone because you often are alone, but also because no one cares about what you're doing. You spend vast amounts of time and effort writing things that no one wants to read (see Reason 89), and no one wants to hear you talk about them either. Your mother isn't interested in your research. Your friends aren't interested. Your fellow graduate students, consumed by their own work, are most definitely not interested. Even your adviser may not be interested in what you're doing (see Reason 45). The people with a seemingly insatiable interest in your progress through graduate school—the people who ask you all those awkward questions—do not care about the projects that devour your thought and energy.

Not surprisingly, graduate students commonly suffer from intense loneliness and isolation, a reality made painfully clear by the search-engine queries that direct readers to 100 Reasons. The ritualized atmosphere of an academic conference (see Reason 74) is one of the few environments in which people pretend, for a few minutes at least, to be mildly interested in each other's research. In the event that people are interested in your work, their interest is likely hostile; that is, your work is similar to theirs, so they view you as a competitor (see Reason 2). Apart from conferences, you can go through life as a graduate student without ever meeting anyone who shows a genuine interest in what you're doing, which, over time, can make you begin to question your own interest in the rhetoric of masculinity in medieval French poetry, in the idiosyncrasies of Portuguese urban planning, or in the application of game theory to the economic behavior of soybean farmers. This helps explain why so many people find dissertations so excruciatingly hard to finish (see Reason 60) and why graduate-school attrition rates are so high (see Reason 46). It's not easy to care about your work when no one else does.