« From the Archives: Rejected Orientation Activities | Main | symbolic inaction »

Grad-ual progress

Over at Fumbling Towards Geekdom, you'll find a roundup of posts for the 1st Monthly Carnival of GRADual Progress, and I was pleasantly surprised to see my post about dissertations from earlier this summer referenced. I'd planned on leaving a comment, but as I began composing it in my head, it kept getting longer and longer, until it made more sense to simply post here. Well, and that way, too, I can send a little traffic in that direction. Winners, all around. One of the things that I wanted to comment on:

Hunting and gathering the following posts from around the internet, I was struck with how much of what is written about grad student life is extremely depressing. I'm a little concerned that this carnival might send you all off to slit your wrists...

Happily enough, I think, I was one of the neutral, the not-all-that-bad. And as I looked back at my post, I think that's warranted. A lot of my grad schoolish advice tends to try and walk a pragmatic line, avoiding both the idealism that sends plenty of us crashing to earth and the abject misery that is not imo representative. We get in trouble with our estimates of graduate school when we imagine that it's somehow different from or better than life in general. And I like to think that I'm actively doing my part to ensure that it's not the case that "the world has got a whole lot nastier since these people were at grad school." With occasional success, I suspect.

Anyhow, I think one of the reasons for the doom and gloom is that academic work can be intensive, isolating, lonely, and thankless. Woohoo! Don't get me wrong, though--it can also be all of the opposites of those. And we do a lovely job of congratulating ourselves and our colleagues when things go well. When someone's hard work pays off, it's not only a confirmation of the hard work itself, but of the hard work that we do as well. When things don't go as well, though, it can be shaming and can make us feel as though we're the only ones who struggle.

And so sharing stories of struggle, among other things, reassures us that we're not the only ones, that it really isn't easy breezy for everyone but us. My guess is, reading the entries aggregated for the carnival, that the posts may seem dark, but there's probably a lot more balance and encouragement when one includes the comments. That tends to be the pattern. It's often a lot easier to see the crap that we put ourselves through as academics. And it can be easier to get some perspective on one's own troubles when reading about someone else's struggle.

Hmm. That wasn't so long after all. So take all the time you would have spent reading the rest of my entry, and browse the entries over there.

That is all.


"We get in trouble with our estimates of graduate school when we imagine that it's somehow different from or better than life in general." thank you for stating this so clearly--yes, academic work is in many ways qualitatively different that other work, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily better or worse, or that there are fewer arcane hurdles to jump over or annoying people to cope with. It is what I've chosen, because it permits me to do the work I love, so I need to simultaneously work with the system and work to change it when I encounter stupid stuff.

Good points. I was talking to a fellow grad student the other night and our conversation went along the lines of:

Her: "I feel so miserable about my project right now."

Me: "You and every other other grad student."

Her: "But it isn't supposed to be like this!"

Me: "Well, you can't expect to love every minute of the process."

Her: "Why the hell not? We are devoting three years of our lives to this crap. If we aren't loving every minute of it, we shouldn't be here at all."

Having read your post, I guess the right response to that would have been something like:

"I'm planning on devoting at least 70 years of my life to... life. If I'm not loving every minute of that, does that mean I shouldn't be here at all?"

And thanks for the link!

Thanks for your hard work putting together the links, Styley, and for stopping by.

And yeah, I'm a little mystified by the whole "100% happiness" thing. I've had a really rough summer in a bunch of ways, but I know that I wouldn't be as happy doing anything else. Some projects have been wonderful, some have been miserable, and some have been both. And 90% of the time, if not more, even when I'm down on myself or my circumstances, I know that the alternatives would be a lot worse...


My sig-o is in the sciences, and seeing what he goes through helps me to keep all of my griping/moaning to a minimum -- the science faculty in his dept. really seem to use and abuse the grad students --a bit of an "I own you/you will do my bidding/and don't expect any thanks or guidance, you're lucky to be here" relationship. It reminds me of frat hazing. Except it lasts for years and years and years. . .

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)