succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From today's Post Secret:

This breaks my heart. I've previously written about grad school, and the mindfuck that it can be. In fact, sadly, searching the phrase "I hate grad school" or some permutation thereof is the number one way that people wind up here at my blog. And the thing is, I *loved* grad school. But I was lucky. It was tough, don't get me wrong. It certainly contributed to me losing my shit* for a while. But spending my 20s in school was actually pretty awesome. In a lot of ways it was what academia promises to be - a community of interesting and interested people, a (relatively) safe place to try out ideas, to stretch mentally and emotionally, to linger a little longer in my stunted early twenties lifestyle, even as I rapidly approached my late twenties.

But not every department in every grad school offers those things. And the trade-off is different in every field. It's not ok that we keep sending kids off to grad school so poorly informed about the reality of their decisions. I'll never understand the students who were there because they didn't know what they wanted to do and therefore grad school seemed like a decent way to keep treading water. I don't mean that in a judgemental way about those students. I mean that I truly will never understand how they experience grad school. *Choosing* to go to grad school is *doing* something. It's not the absence of a choice. In fact, it's a really fucking hard thing to do. Depending on your field, it's expensive. If you're lucky enough (like me) to want to do something that the world decides is worth funding, then it's 'free,' but at the cost of indentured servitude and, especially in this economy, perpetual hustling for that 'free' money. If you happen to be unlucky enough to love something that the world doesn't value, then your love better keep your belly full. Literally. Two of my friends chose this particular path. Or rather, this particular path chose them. Because that's what it's like when you earn degrees in English or Art History. In both their cases it was clear that this was the thing they were made to do (ok, in the latter case she went off to be a brilliant writer, but still, art history - she's made for it).

In both cases, they literally went hungry, for non-trivial periods of time. This is the message that kids applying to grad school need to hear. Do you love the thing you're studying so much that you'll want to keep studying it, even if paying for classes means maybe only one or two meals a day? Means doing the grind, day in and day out, for years, with no promise of any job upon graduation, much less a lucrative job to help you pay off those student loans that didn't quite cover enough for both rent and food? Because, for some of you, that is what it will be like. Is that supremely fucked up? Yes, of course it is. And we should get to work changing the system. But meanwhile, you should be asking yourself "Do I love this enough to get me through the really shitty days? To get me out of bed when life is miserable and cruel? Or do I just sort of think this elective I took sophomore year was neat?" Because applying that criteria may, just may, spare you the kind of regret expressed above.

*would I have lost it anyway? Probably. Am I grateful that happened, because I'm in such a better place now as a result of finding my shit again? You're damn right.