Honest advice on graduate school


30 November 2006, 20.46 CET

Three interesting and related posts about graduate school triangulate a difficult question that ultimately requires different answers for each person and situation. The most important aspects are intangible, unpredictable, wellworn, and putatively out-of-date: character, fate, stubbornness, luck, and friendship.

Winston Churchill’s sentiments are perhaps most relevant: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

12. Enjoy it. You’ll probably never be around such smart, interesting, and completely fucked up people ever again. It’s good times.

Fontana Labs; unfogged.com

Independently evaluating academic life from within its confines is a near-impossibility.

Past your second year of study, you will no longer know how to. I don’t think you can again until you have finished and come out the other side with a Ph.D. I feel like I’ve got perspective again now, but it takes time and distance–and the clarity that comes from making it all the way through. If you quit in between, even when it is right and proper that you do so, even when you should feel triumphantly scornful of all academia has to offer you personally, your own yardsticks for achievement will have been so altered that you will spend years exorcising all the little spectres of doubt that follow you away from the ivy walls.

Timothy Burke, Swarthmore College

You shouldn’t go to graduate school unless you’re sure that this is the only career for you. Your sunk costs will be very high very soon, and the only thing that can possibly carry you through will be your conviction that you really do love your subject.

Eric Rauchway, The New Republic