10 Ways Grad School is Nothing like Your Undergrad Experience

by - Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Just some thoughts before I block out all these memories with knitting and reality television.

1. You don't have time for a life. You get grad school, and you get one other thing- a successful relationship, a group of close friends, a hobby, a regular drinking schedule, etc. Grad school takes up all your time. All of it. So you have time to squeeze one other thing in. If you are really good at time management, you probably have time for some "professional development" too. If you are going into academia, this will never get better. These people are miserable.
2. You don't really want to be in classes that you can blow off- Ok, a little bit of this is alright, but no one wants to pour hours into some insipid class that they aren't learning anything from.
3. All of your classmates will know all of each other's business, but you aren't exactly friends- For coursework, a graduate student cohort sees each other more than they see their families. In some ways, they are  friends, but the kind of friend you can't really trust. Often, there is a lot of bonding about the particularly annoying grad student (if you think this isn't true, that person is you) and a ton of gossip about nothing. Because you aren't interesting- you have no life, so there isn't much to gossip about.
4. You will work a lot harder than you did as an undergrad- You will read more in a quarter than you did in all four years of your undergrad, then you will go to a seminar discussion where you say enough to show 5-10% of your efforts. That's it. In the same way, you spend a huge amount of time researching, and once you are good at it, about 50% of that labor shows in your research papers. You really have to do things because you want to do them.
5. No one will understand what it is you do all day, and nobody cares what you are studying- If you try to talk about what your academic interests are, anyone who isn't an academic will look frightened, and anyone who is an academic will only be listening enough to find an opportunity to interject what it is they do. Truly, nobody cares. The sooner you are cool with that, the happier you will be.

6. In Academia, the goal is to build yourself an island- You are working really hard to have your tiny bit of knowledge that no one else in the world has. Nobody. This, if you think about it, is actually pretty cool, but as the last bullet suggests, it is also deeply alienating. You see academics just longing to find common ground, when very often they can't, and really successful academics spend the rest of their career trying to swat the lesser guys away from their island. You want someone near enough to talk to, but you also always want your island to be bigger than theirs.
7. You are agreeing to have a dark cloud over your head all the time- If you are in grad school, you should be doing work. When you are sleeping, you should be doing work. When you are eating, why aren't you also reading? When you go to the movie, you better be taking notes for a class. You get the picture. Grad students can, at least to some extent, control their schedules, but their to do list is endless, and they should always be doing more. If you are in grad school, it can be Christmas day, but that cloud will still be there.
8. The most amazing parts will be random- you get to volunteer at a talk and meet Yoko Ono. You reperform a famous Happening with the original artist. Good, crazy big things will happen. You will have experiences other people never get. But, you won't see this stuff coming, because right up until it happens, you will be thinking about the dark cloud.
9. You know nothing about the school you are at- You aren't a real part of the student body, can't find your way to a new building on campus 5 years in, have never been to a sports event, and only know the nearest libraries and places to eat.
10. You will get way smarter, and you will work your brain at a whole new level of craziness, but you will not get better at Trivial Pursuit- In fact, I think I got worse.

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