I have found that most prospective graduate students have given little thought to what will happen to them after they complete their doctorates. They assume that everyone finds a decent position somewhere…
They are emerging from 16 years of institutional living: a clear, step-by-step process of advancement toward a goal, with measured outcomes, constant reinforcement and support, and clearly defined hierarchies. The world outside school seems so unstructured, ambiguous, difficult to navigate, and frightening.
Sound familiar? From The Shawshank Redemption:
Brooks ain’t no bug. He’s just… just institutionalized. The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. Outside, he’s nothin’! Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands. These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.
I know several people who are going into graduate school solely because they don’t know what else to do, and they’re not ready for the real world. I’d like to slap all of these people, but empathy prevents me from going through with it. By the time a lot of us hit 21-years old, the structure that comes with school has been the only life we’ve ever known.
If you haven’t cultivated your own self-growth by learning things on your own and setting your own goals, life outside of school can seem pretty daunting. No one is going to force you to learn anything from then on. So what do most people do when they face this harsh realization? They look at what the rest of the crowd is doing, follow the status quo, and the mediocre life they’ve always dreaded commences.