A few brief updates to make one large update…
First: I wrote a guest blog for gradshare.com, you should go check it out! While you’re there, poke around gradshare a little bit. It’s a great project; basically a wiki for graduate students by the graduate community where folks can ask questions/post advice either anonymously or semi-anonymously. That ability makes it a wonderful forum for those awkward questions that we are so bad at asking each other (you know, the ones that uttering could kill your career if someone overheard them). I’m a firm believer in transparency within the academy and truly hope that projects like this can help move towards a profession no longer run behind closed doors.
We’re all in this together. Really, we’re future colleagues. We’re going to be peer reviewing each others’ work. We’re going to be compiling volumes of each others’ papers for publication. We’re going to be listening to/speaking with each other on conference panels. Why shouldn’t we talk about the uncomfortable bits of the profession? Why shouldn’t we support each other in this incredibly stressful career we’ve chosen to enter?
Through the years, I truly hope to see more forums like gradshare.
Second: I just finished reading this book (Surviving your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School by Adam Ruben PhD).
A confession; there were parts of the book which struck me as laugh-out-loud funny. I definitely sat in the coffee shop chortling my way through the middle of the volume while desperately trying not to laugh too horribly loudly.
However, that being said, the rest of the gook left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. Dr. Ruben has a PhD in molecular biology and, as his outlet through his PhD, he performed stand-up comedy. Much like this blog is my way to express my discontent, discernment, and discombobulating, it seems that Dr. Ruben worked through his via his act which then produced this book.
I will be the first to admit that I write a lot of negative things on here. However, for every realistically negative and hyperbolic hypercompensative remark I make, I’d like to think that I also say something positive. I truly believe that I blog the highs and lows of academia, no matter how high and how low those get.
Well… Dr. Ruben got the lows part, but he failed to mention the highs. Reading this book was like bashing the skull of the academy into the ground repeatedly while screaming “TAKE THAT, JERK!” at the top of one’s lungs when academia was already having a particularly bad day anyway. I’m not saying that Dr. Ruben’s observations aren’t based in truth, but he takes that truth to such an alarmist extreme that it often moves past the realm of “funny” or “sad” and into “bullying”. If the academy was a person, I’d call Dr. Ruben’s book slander and be tempted to sue him for libel of character.
In the words of the immortal Edmund Kean (well, attestation of the quote is debatable, but someone else has done the legwork on that): “Dying is easy, Comedy is hard”.
I worked the New York stand-up circuit for a while. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to be funny. But humor isn’t always just taking something to its ridiculous and negative extreme (though, granted, sometimes it is). After reading Dr. Ruben’s book, I wasn’t left wondering about my own life choices. Instead, I was left wondering about his. If he truly had such a hideous, horrible, no-good, very-bad time in graduate school, then why did he do it?
Sure, plenty of people get into the PhD having no idea what they’re in for (I would argue that this is anyone and everyone who goes for a PhD, I certainly fell into this category), but nobody says that you have to continue if you’re truly that miserable. Depending on your field, the rate of attrition is approximately 20% – 30% (higher for mathematics and physical sciences, lower in the humanities). Plenty of people enter into doctorate living, decide it’s not for them, and leave.
The most important thing for a graduate student to remember while doing her PhD is that THIS IS YOUR LIFE. It’s not a piece of your life, it’s not something you can just do then do something else afterward, you are training for the rest of your life. While you are doing so, you are incurring a great deal of debt, stress, and personal strife. Why would you sacrifice so much for something if you weren’t absolutely in love with it?
Now, I will grant you, I have my bad days. I, in fact, have my awful days. But never, since I started, have I ever once thought that I would be better off doing something else. The
problems I have, while large problems and really tough to deal with, are problems that I would rather have than any other problems in the world.
So, if you must, read Dr. Ruben’s book… but do so with the understanding that a) he’s not a stellar writer, b) he’s not a stellar comedian, and c) if his life were truly that miserable, he should have done something about it other than complain.
…though his commentary on dealing with undergraduate students is dead-on.