Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The Grad School Blues
A post by Derek Lowe and a follow-up by Chad Orzel about "Stockholm Syndrome", or "Why I won't do the experiment that will get me my Ph.D." struck a cord with me, not surprisingly. As both of them noted, Grad School can become a very comfortable place to be. Sure, the money is bad, but hey, if they aren't paying much, you don't have to work hard, right? Additionally, as they both noted, as you go through grad school, you go from neophyte to resident expert in a couple of years. After grade school, high school, and college, you are certain that you have to go right back to the beginning when you leave (you're right, too!), so what's the hurry? Plus, if you go academic, the money doesn't exactly get a lot better real fast.
So, what is a grad student to do? Well, my experience mirrors others, I am sure, but eventually life catches up to you, and you realize it is time to get on with it. Either that, or you begin to hate your labmates so much that you can barely stand to look at them, and you realize that it is graduate or go to prison for aggravated mayhem, so graduate it is! Finally, working on the minutiae of a single project can get excruciatingly boring after a while, which also helps.
So, what is my advice to grad students out there? I don't know (run like hell?). But basically, think of grad school as a time for learning lots of new things, and living on tight budgets. There may be lots of stress (or not), there may be lots of fun too. But in the end, you learn mostly about how to motivate yourself when no one else will, and that is the most valuable lesson. I think students should make sure to have fun in grad school-go to the seminars, make friends, learn as much as you can, because once you leave, the pressure ratchets up, and all of those things go out the window (especially if you have a family).