Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I have to admit that I honestly don't know what my answer to my hypothetical question would be. I guess that's the luxury of being the question asker.

I used to hate the fact that the career services office at my college discouraged just about everyone from going on to graduate school. They sent you on to Andersen or something. I felt so restricted by that. Supposedly the reason was that OCS thought that most kids went on to graduate school because their parents wanted them to (whether spoken or not), or that they were just trying to hide from the job market/real world. I knew at the time, though, that I just really wanted to do research. Normal jobs weren't appealing to me, because they weren't academic in nature. I wanted to do pure science, and that's all I wanted. I didn't bother going OCS , because I didn't want to hear them try and pursuade me from going to graduate school. That was probably a mistake, because I didn't fully explore my options. However, given what I knew then, I don't think it was a mistake to go get my phd. I wanted to do science more than anything.

Given what I know now. . . I still would have done the same thing. (Boy, it really pains me to say that.)

I almost chose a different advisor before I actually came to graduate school. One of the professors wanted me to work with him, because we had some strange alumni/friend connection. Had I worked with him, I would have travelled to all the best telescopes in the world, worked on my own instruments, published a ton of discovery papers, have people in the field really know who I was. I would be starting a post-doc right now, probably at a major observatory, and looking at a research I job 5 year from now. Part of me would have been skeptical and cynnical about myself and the world, because I will have that in me. However, a large part of me would have been a go-go astronomer. The person who I actually am today, would absolutely hate that alternative me.

How would I explain to my 21 year old self that graduate school is such a strange place, that one phone call to the professor mentioned above placed in May of my Senior year would determine so much about my future life. How do you acurately explain that the choice of your advisor in your first year (if not sooner) will be the biggest decision of your professional life? That you better know what you want to do in 6 years, because it's going to hurt if you pick an advisor who wants you to do something else? That you better know how to make a great support system for yourself (and I do have a good one. . .Thanks, Makigirl), because if the experience does start hurting, no one is going to care (at worst) or know how to do anything about it (at best)? That some of your friends are either going to severly struggle or simply not make it through the program for no good reason? That a little part of you is going to believe that you're better than those friends, because you hear so many people talk about how your friends weren't good enough to make it? That unless you're a pompous bastard, you're going to feel inadequate everytime someone else (even your closest friends) talk about their research? That no one is going to teach you how to get a job? speak? write? That the values you hold dear will be considered irrelevant by the majority of your field? That so many people will live in a little box called tenure track?

I don't know that my 21 year old self would listen anyway. But, stranger still, if I did somehow truely convince my 21 year old self of all those things, and probably reduce myself to tears, I'd have to tell me to go, because I loved the experience, and I wouldn't trade who I am now for anything.

I think I would encourage students to go to graduate school, but I think I would be a hell of a lot tougher about it now, then I ever thought I would have been when I was 21. I think I would be grilling every student who brought it up to me. I think I wouldn't even care about their academic/research abilities. I would suggest graduate school to those students who were self-aware enough (like you and I) to appreciate the experience for what it is. If an academically capable student wasn't prepared mentally/emotionally, then I would be spending a lot more time with them on studying their self-awareness, then I would practicing for the GRE.

There's my short answer.

-hoagieboy



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