November 12, 2012

Grad School Vs. Real Life

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What is the issue?

Days Off

Grad School: You never “clock out” when you’re in grad school. I mean, yeah, you have to go to seminars and everything, but in general you pick your own seminars which is kind of like picking your own hours. There’s no time sheet, and you don’t have any jealous co-workers monitoring where you are. That sort of freedom is priceless. Also, you only work 9 months out of the year which means you always have the summers off to do whatever you like.

Real Life: People who have to report to the office at certain times hate getting out of bed and can’t wait for three-day weekends and Holidays because it means they don’t have to go into the office. In grad school, you don’t have to get excited about a three-day weekend because you can have a three-day weekend whenever you want!

Work Itself

Grad School: If you’re in graduate school you’re probably obsessive about a particularly esoteric detail, which is probably why you are having such a hard time getting laid. In grad school, you are your work. You don’t work within a set time frame — you are always working, and the work volume never seems to decrease. You’re reading article upon article, book after book, and you’re always thinking about how this book connects to your overall project, jotting things down, realizing what your whole project is about mere hours before the project is due. Your work is always with you; it’s the only thing you feel comfortable talking about, and you bring it up as frequently as possible. A word to the wise: don’t ever ask a graduate student what they study unless you have lots of extra time.

Real Life: People in the real world can leave their work at the office. When they clock out, that means that whatever it was they were doing stays right up on that desk until tomorrow morning when they start getting paid again to crack that folder back open. This might vary depending on the field you work in. My grandmother drove the city bus and when her run ended at 5 p.m., that was it. No more bus nothing until tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. when she was back on the payroll.

Choosing A Bad Project

Grad School: Your research project needs to be something that nobody has ever thought of before. So that’s kind of a daunting thing. If you chose the wrong project, you’re basically screwed for the rest of your life. Nobody will hire you, you won’t get fellowships, and you will never get published. Your whole value as a grad student and for the rest of your career depends on the project you chose, and if you chose the wrong one, you just wasted a decade. No pressure or anything.

Real Life: The real world moves so fast that by the time you chose whatever project you’re working on, it’s already old news before you finish it. So there’s not as big of a risk in choosing the wrong thing. Accounts come and go, and it’s especially not your fault if the project was handed to you by a superior. If it fails you get to look up at her or him and shrug.

Food

Grad School: The conference/panel discussion/”critical brown bag lunch series” are pillars of academia. You go to the fanciest room on campus and hear people talk about very important ideas, meanwhile you eat as much of the catered food you can plus stashing some of it away for later. No shame, hunnaii!

Real Life: Don’t you just order take out?

Anxiety

Grad School: So graduate school is basically a giant anxiety factory — you don’t know what questions are going to be on your oral exam, you don’t know if your committee will approve your dissertation project, you don’t know if you will get kicked out at any moment, you don’t know if you’re going to land a job at the end of your studies or where it will be, after applying to 50 jobs you don’t know if any of them are going to call you for a campus interview, and for MONTHS you won’t know if your journal article or book project got accepted. It’s nerve wrecking because everything relating to your performance in grad school is so subjective that it’s impossible to never be anxious.

Real Life: People in real life don’t have as many work-related anxieties because, again, work is over whenever you clock out.

Money

Grad School: You’ve heard this “life of the mind” stuff, right? It’s the idea that the greatest benefit of graduate school is that, for the most part, you are your own boss, devoting yourself to whatever you want to study. And that’s a real plus. But money! Depending on where you go to graduate school, you will work an intricate combination of loans, research assistantships, teaching assistantships and perhaps a few masked stints in some X-Tube videos just to make ends meet. When you get your first stipend check as a Ph.D. student you’re all, “Wow, they’re paying me to read up on everything there is to know about Chinese history!” Sounds nice, right? Yeah, just wait three years. Soon, that $15,000 you’re getting is going to start feeling old, especially when your best friend who graduated college with you has been working at an investment bank and now has $300,000 saved up and your account is, like, perpetually -$30.

Real Life: Did you know that at some companies people get bonuses for even getting hired there in the first place? It’s like, congratulations on getting hired by us because WE’RE SO SELECTIVE. So here’s a free $10000 prize for being amazing! Of course, people making more money don’t necessarily love their jobs more or have better lives. People who work corporate jobs talk about how “soul sucking” it can be, and there is something to be said about making less money and loving what you do versus sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars and doing things like taking trips to Grenyarnia and other islands only rich people know about. TC mark

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