Monday, June 04, 2007

The Good Stuff

So, after the past couple of posts about the transition from undergrad to grad school, I feel like I should do a post that is more... positive. I also feel like I should note that I'm NOT saying that the way things are (however that is, and it does vary widely by institution and part of the country) is the way that things should always remain, and that I'm NOT saying that my experience with stuff will apply to every single person who attends grad school or who reads this blog. These posts originated out of the ways that I'm seeing my own student's experience replicating my experience. Part of that is because, like me, this student took no time off between undergrad and grad school. [Aside: one reason why students from institutions like my current one don't take time off is because they can't afford to go into repayment on loans or because they fear that family pressure will mean they'll never go back. Taking a "year off" is a luxury that only a certain type of student can afford, or that only a certain type of student thinks that they can afford.] Part of this is because, like me, this student made a major leap in terms of quality of program between undergrad and grad. So will the experience be different if one has made or makes different choices? Most likely. But I suppose that my impetus to write about my experience in the way that I do is because those were the things that I never heard when I was making my decisions about graduate school or when I was suffering through graduate school myself. And I feel like hearing those things would have made me feel better or at least would have helped me to understand my position in ways that were helpful to me. So am I trying to advocate for grad school being a harsh and horrifying place? No. Am I trying to dissuade people from pursuing graduate education? Well, no, except that the last thing the world needs is more unemployable PhDs, so I'm not encouraging people either. I'm just trying to talk about (and to think through) certain aspects of how one's identity as an academic is formed, and I'm trying to flesh out for myself how those things that have formed my academic identity have affected who I am now. That's it.

But was graduate school a "bad" experience for me? Hell no it wasn't! Was it hard? Sure. Was it emotionally draining and confusing and complicated? Yep. But it wasn't "bad." How can I say this?

  • Graduate school gave me the tools to think and speak in ways that I never would have learned had I not attended.
  • Graduate school was a luxury. I was able to read widely and deeply, to think long and hard, to focus on things that made me see the world in a new way.
  • Some of my deepest and most lasting and most important friendships originated in grad school.
  • Graduate school taught me that I am capable of original and insightful thought and that I am capable of meeting goals that were impossible for me to imagine at 17, when I had to work my ass off to explain to my mother that it was even possible for me to attend a 4-year university rather than "taking a few classes at community college" and living at home.
  • Graduate school made my world bigger. It meant leaving my hometown, moving to two different and bigger cities, and making a new life for myself in each of those, without the safety net of family and people I knew for years.
  • Graduate school taught me who my friends were and it taught me who I could count on in the life that I had before. People who couldn't hang with me becoming hyper-educated were quickly weeded out. That was a good thing.
  • Graduate school meant that I had the option of becoming a college professor - without it, I would not have the life I have now, and I like the life I have now. I like having some control over my day-to-day schedule. I like having autonomy. I like teaching, but I also like that I get to have a life of the mind, too. I like that some of the hardest work I do can be accomplished in pajamas.
  • Graduate school, and specifically my years in my PhD program, were not only times of study and stress but also times of Big Fun and Partying and Dating and Dancing and Craziness.
So if you need a positive spin from Dr. Crazy, there it is. It doesn't erase the other stuff I've written about recently, nor do I think it's particularly helpful to anybody, but I don't want to come off like some Debbie Downer who only sees only Doom and Gloom in this process or who is aggressively, at one and the same time, reinforcing the status quo about how grad students are treated and discouraging people's dreams or something. I'm not saying that my version of this experience, whether positive or negative, will be everybody's version. It's just Dr. Crazy's version. And the more versions we get, the better off we all are. I really do believe that.


Anastasia said...

what is up with that whole "take a few classes at the community college" thing? Does anybody really think that's going anywhere?

LMamma said...

"People who couldn't hang with me becoming hyper-educated were quickly weeded out. That was a good thing."

Could you elaborate a bit on this? I've lost a few friends since starting grad school, and like you, have (mostly) concluded that it was because they couldn't deal with me becoming more educated, that it threatened them somehow. I also believe that it was a good thing, overall, but often still struggle with whether it wasn't just me, being a bad friend or whatnot. I'm pretty sure that it was the grad school thing, but just fall into self-doubt sometimes.

So, if you could expand on this a little, it would be really helpful to me, if you have the time and the inclination! How did you figure out that it was your education that threatened them, versus something else? Did they make directly derogatory comments, etc.? Thanks in advance, and no problem if you don't care to elaborate. It's reassuring enough to know that I'm not the only one who experienced this.

Dr. Crazy said...

Well, the way I knew it was that was because those people (and some were in my family) made comments about me being a "lifetime student" (as if what I was doing was taking 20 years to finish college or something), they would note when I would use words they didn't know and say that this meant I was becoming a snob or that I thought I was "too good for" where I came from, they would consistently ask why I was bothering with grad school because "what are you going to do with that?" - that sort of thing. These are also the "I can't talk around you because I have to watch my English" people. So it was pretty clear that it wasn't about what kind of a friend I was or wasn't but about the fact that I was changing and it made those people unsure of how to deal with me. To be honest, this didn't happen with all that many people, and the people with whom it did happen tended to be men (and that list includes my father).

I hope that answers what you wanted to hear more about!

Grrrrl Problems said...

Thanks for the reply, Dr. Crazy -- I was wondering about that myself. I have trouble telling whether or not I *am* actually being elitist and snotty, or whether the people that react this way are simply oversensitive about their own inadequacies. Any good way to tell when it's one, and when it's the other?

Dr. Crazy said...

Well, see, here's the thing. I think the way to tell is based on the hostility with which the person responds to one. I mean, my mom might make fun of me if I use some high-falutin word, but she's not *mean* to me and she knows that I don't intend to belittle her. Same with friends who've stayed in my life. They *accept* me for who I've become, and sure, they'll tell me if I'm being a snob or whatever, but they laugh when they're doing it because they know the me *beneath* all of that and they care about her. Those other people? Yeah, ultimately, they didn't care about *me* and they couldn't be happy for *me*. They related to me like I wasn't their friend anymore. Does that make sense?

kyri said...

Dr. Crazy, I am considering a PHd in Clinical Psych. I have a BA, an MPA and will be completing a JD in December 07. I honestly thought law school was it. I thought it would provide me the requisites tools to contribute to the "fixing" of society. However LS has left me with more questions than answers. I have never been intimidated by an academic pursuit, but the psych PhD makes me nervous. Some of the anxiety stems from the dismal acceptance rates. The other 85% is the by product of my own ignorance. I'd appreciate any advice. I have a few questions:
1. How do I deal with relatives who believe the BA was plenty;
2. How difficult is the Phd? In your opinion, is the JD comparable or a walk in the park?