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Monday, 30 October 2017

Grad School + Beyond:

I'm 3 years into my PhD and I just read the statistic: "only three or four in every hundred PhD students in the United Kingdom will land a permanent staff position at a university."
The stat showed up in this article in Nature's International Weekly Journal of Science, which is written with regard to the sciences, but I have my severe doubts that the humanities are any better off: the reality is that myself and most graduate students I know will be hard-pressed to get a permanent contract with a university even after we've all become "Doctor ____."
This should cause us to pause and reflect on why we're doing these degrees in the first place.
To me, graduate studies---isolated yet competitive work culture, high-stress, long hours, low-pay, and seemingly with no promise of an academic job that most people assume they will fall into---is really only worth it if you (a) can work with the flexible learning environment it allows (/forces upon) you; and (b) can stay happy/healthy while doing it.
An alarmingly high number of students struggle to stay happy and healthy + link this struggle to their studies/work environment. Some studies like this one in Science have shown that 1 in 3 graduate students struggle with mental health on account of their workload and work environment (and, based on my friend/colleague circle, I'd speculate it's actually significantly higher than 33%.)
I assume I will be happy to have done my PhD even if I wind up in a career totally outside of academia where my PhD specifics aren't really needed (/useful?) (--but then again, I only pursued graduate studies in the first place because it provided a debt-free, albeit financially meagre, way to do full-time learning on topics that interest me.) I truly hope that other grad students feel similarly, and that they're studying their various research topics primarily because they enjoy the process of studying. (At least, I pity those of you who are wading through grad school, not enjoying it at all, but are under the [false?] hope that you will end up in a TT professorship job.)
So, if this is indeed true that the process itself ought to be enjoyable, it is most important that we focus on enjoying the actual process at hand.
A few things come to mind in this regard. I'm writing them out somewhat with the hope that I will force myself to adopt them for myself...(that is, they are pieces of advice which are thus far hypocritical due to not following them myself...)
1. Abandon the 'publish or perish' paradigm. 2. Stop stressing that I haven't read enough theories, or don't know as much of the literature as xyz. 3. Focus on learning for the sake of improving my knowledge of a topic that interests/intrigues me---not for appearing smart, not for impressing my supervisor, etc. 4. Don't try to make a perfect + brilliant thesis/paper/etc. That benchmark is unrealistic and can be somewhat uninspiring. Try to write something that is interesting, or challenging, or inspiring, or beautiful, ...and coherent. It doesn't have to incorporate everything you've learned and it doesn't have to be applauded by the academe. 5. (I would like your tips/feedback!) And, now, a poem...which I find challenging, inspiring, beautiful, and coherent.
"Every day I see or hear something that more or less
kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle
in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for - to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world - to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation."
~ Mary Oliver (USA, 1935-), from “Mindful,” Why I Wake Early

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