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Best Days

I've heard people reminisce about how high school was the best time of their life.
I've heard people reminisce about how university was the best time of their life.
I've never heard anyone reminisce about how grad school was the best time of their life.

Why? Do I need to wait ten years until daily self-doubt has become a fading memory for my colleagues? Or is it that the goals of graduate school are so spread out that it's harder to achieve a feeling of accomplishment at regular enough intervals? Or is it that grad school is ultimately done for professional purposes, that it's a transitional credentialling and rarely an end in its own right? Or perhaps it's that those who really love grad school never end up in conversations which cause them to reflect that life was better back then?


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 28th, 2006 05:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this as I passed it along to my husband. He's going thru the phase of "I hate grad school as it is soooo boring"
Mar. 28th, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)
Grad school is wretched, and most people I've met agree. I think peoples' experience ranges from okay/mediocre for the lucky ones and soulblastinglyhellish for the non-lucky ones. I'm somewhere in the middle. My biggest gripes include...

-still depending on the criticism/grading of others but expected to be independent (contradictory much?)
-having no visibile increase of status or income over 5-7 years
-a growing emphasis on product and time-completed over process
-in the 'studying for large exam' and 'preparing giant document' phases, having no actual day-to-day goals and accomplishments
-the rush to secure funding, coupled with the limitation of only being able to do so much (in most cases, you can't make a lateral move to another program if your funding runs out, like you _can_ do if a job is getting annoying or if you're laid off)
-not having most people understand what the hell you're doing or why you're doing it

Of course, there are things I love about grad school. I'm paid, however little, to sit around and read things that I think ought to be read. And if the gamble works out, a professorial job will be awesome (and solve many of the above problems). I'd much rather be a grad student than, well, anything else I could choose, and definitely more than all the things that people who don't have a choice have to do. But still, there are things about it that make people pretty grim.
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC)
Not only is it years of no income and no status increase, but it's years of actively losing income which we'd have otherwise accrued. Grad school comes at a major cost, and that cost isn't just tuition and living expenses.

It's been a real relief to have a number of people comment on this post that they really did enjoy their MA degrees; notably, no one has been so positive about their PhDs. Discontent, weariness, confusion, and self-doubt are the most frequent traits of graduate students weblog posts, leavened by the moments of intellectual thrill, satisfying student feedback, and research revelations which make the rest worth working through.

in the 'studying for large exam' and 'preparing giant document' phases, having no actual day-to-day goals and accomplishments
While this is unsatisfying and challenging after years of structured coursework, at the same time, I think it's one of the most important things that a PhD requires. It forces us each to grapple with time management and learn to be independent scholars. I'm still not good at it, but I'm a whole lot better than I was a few years ago.
Mar. 28th, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
I'd say that the two year MA I did was the best time of my life. University wasn't all that much fun, and high school was much worse. But my MA was in coastal, southern California (remember, I come from Alberta), and entire vistas of scholarship, intellectual purpose, and validation opened up to me.

It was the Ph.D. that made me feel dejected sometimes.
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:10 pm (UTC)
It is such a relief to hear someone commit to having really enjoyed some part of grad school. I'm glad the MA was so satisfying for you.

One of the best things about reading blogs (esp., once, Invisible Adjunct) was the discussion it opened up, that huge numbers of grad students were discontent in various ways with the graduate school process. Flaws do not make something wrong, but it was equally healthy to have a public discussion in it being completely okay to leave graduate school. It does not equate to personal failing if a system doesn't fit. But equally, those discussions left me wondering about all those who really did enjoy grad school when the alternative cited in these discussions is the propaganda promoting program growth.
Mar. 28th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
There were parts of grad school that were wonderful, but those are the same things we get when we're out of grad school: the cameraderie, the great conversation with colleagues, the reading as work (except that it's far harder when out of grad school unless you land a research job), the bitching about student writing ...

And then there's the continued feelings of fraud (except that you now have a degree to prove that you fooled everybody -- or is that just me?), feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted (except that you now pretty much do it to yourself) ... but also, the having people pay for your travel, the part where you know you finished, the (with any luck) employment.

Me? I occasionally miss the relative safety and protection of Doktorvater, but it's nowhere near the fun of being out there without a net. Not that I haven't done my best to create one so that I can't fall without trying really hard!

Mar. 28th, 2006 07:01 pm (UTC)
Loved my MA.

Was a full time professor during my PhD so didn't really get to take part in grad school conversations.
Mar. 28th, 2006 07:10 pm (UTC)
My MA was hellish to the max - I realize now that Toronto's expectations were stunningly unrealistic in terms of workload, (a ONE year MA - four courses done concurrently when in my PhD I did 2 per term and found that challenging). The PhD was fun at first - course work was terrific, comps were okay - reading list was interesting, exams and viva hellish but MAJOR sense of accomplishment afterwards. Dissertation... hell, largely due to supervisor difficulties which I gather are not uncommon. You also get so fed up with people who are by this time effectively your peers treating you as a "student" - in my case, I'm a mature student and had been teaching in a community college for years, and actually had more teaching experience than my diss supervisor...
Mar. 28th, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
I don't really think either high school or university were the "best" times of my life, because a lot of them were still very socially awkward for me.

I can very very definitely say that graduate school has been the most formative period of my life. Probably this has to do with how challenging it's been, and I've changed because of it. But if I were given a choice between the person I am now, and who I was in undergrad? No contest. I'd rather have grad-school me, even with all the stresses.
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC)
The people most likely to go on to graduate school are, on average, the most introverted. It takes a long time to learn to function well with other people. Perverse, then, that graduate school, esp. in North America, is intended to train people to be teachers, admins, and people-people by way of several years of researching all by your lonesome. (This realization was courtesy of fjm.)
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Mar. 29th, 2006 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Mar. 29th, 2006 12:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Mar. 29th, 2006 10:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Mar. 29th, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:15 pm (UTC)
If something - especially something like grad school - isn't working for you, then it's healthy to leave it. It's not your fault that the program didn't work for you. I'm sorry you ended up going through the stress of aftermath, but glad the experience wasn't a complete wash for you.
Mar. 28th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
I'm not generally a 'best time of my life' person. I'm also not entirely sure I can objectively compare a period that just ended a couple of years ago to other periods further removed.

Having said that, I think that grad school may well have been the best time of my life. To be in a community where my mentors actively respected and encouraged my ideas, allowing me to produce a substantial piece of work of my own devising. Not to mention substantial amounts of free time. That's pretty sweet. Not to mention that grad school represents the period when I got married! Were there times when I was frustrated and despised it? Damn right. But compare that to a 9-5 desk job, and I'd take grad school any day.
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:12 pm (UTC)
I find the whole "best time of my life" thing to be pessimistic. It implies that life will never get any better than it was. It's all down hill. The "best time of my life so far" is a bit healthier.
Mar. 28th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
I'd say the best period of my life was last night. Very nice chats with my friends Shannon and Claire, quiet dinner of spaghetti, pleasant cup of tea. But I'm really looking forward to my next bath, so there might be a new contender soon.
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
People who say that high school is the best time of their lives are sick, sick, sick, and untrustworthy to boot. I will have nothing to do with such freaks of nature who were laughing gleefully while I was being mercilessly mocked and shunned.

I have to say, grad school is probably the best time in my life. College was miles better than high school, and grad school has been, on the whole, excluding various life difficulties that really have nothing to do with the experience of grad school itself, leagues better than college. And I think that has to do with being in a place where my skills, interests, and strengths are valued and recognized, rather than denigrated and mocked, and also continuing to mature and become more settled in who I am.

But as to the general question, as to why so many more people prefer college to grad school (again, feh, I spit on people who enjoyed high school), I think it has to do with time of life. Many of us were miserable in high school, which is a time when hormones run unchecked and people are not fully socialized yet. And grad school often takes place during adulthood--one cannot be so carefree as many middle-class college kids are, because one is more concerned with taking care of oneself, worrying about the future, financial concerns, and planning families. Finally, in grad school, the heady freedoms of college--being able to do what you want without your parents looking over your shoulder--are more or less de rigeur, and thus no longer carry euphoria with them.
Mar. 29th, 2006 05:45 pm (UTC)
You don't think it's just that the only people left are mostly Like Us?
(no subject) - vschanoes - Mar. 29th, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:29 pm (UTC)
Grad school has been like a dance through paradise when compared to the seven soulless years I spent after Smith working retail.

I thank my lucky stars every day that I'm still here...even when I'm in term-paper-hell.

Mar. 29th, 2006 04:07 pm (UTC)
Good luck with your term paper hell. I miss academia, myself. And since I don't want to spend my life working souless years in retain I'll probably have to go back and get something practical to work with. Like a Masters in library science. le sigh. Maybe a third masters would be the charm.
Mar. 28th, 2006 11:36 pm (UTC)
I loved graduate school, and I found it infinitely more sustaining than full-time tenure-track academia, which probably has to do with landing myself in exactly the wrong sort of department. I also miss some of my grad-school friends, but it's been fascinating (and rewarding) to discover who I've managed to keep in touch with.

I'm not prone to best-time-of-my-life conversations, though. For one thing, I prefer to believe that the best is yet to be; for another, it seems ridiculous to say that a given time is Best In All Ways. Right now, my work life is lousy but I think there might be light at the end of the tunnel, my friendships are good but I think I could do a better job maintaining them, my religious life is good but overscheduled (also suffering from confusion with my work life), my family life is good but I miss various departed relatives like hell, and my love life is better than it has ever been but I refuse to contemplate a downturn. So it's complicated, and I wind up sounding a bit like Candide when I try to express it. ;)
Mar. 29th, 2006 12:35 am (UTC)
My first three years or so of grad school were really my best, I hadn't discovered self doubt yet. My dissertation is definately challenging me, but mostly in a good way (I just keep telling myself this...). Sometimes I think I would like to experience college again with the self-confidence and focus I have now. I'm certainly more comfortable in social situtations now than I was as an undergraduate.
Mar. 29th, 2006 06:09 pm (UTC)
I acquired a social life as an undergrad, starting the week I arrived. There are lots of opportunities I failed to take advantage of as an undergrad, but if I could go back and change only one thing - I would have slept more and been more alert for all that I did do.
Mar. 29th, 2006 02:39 am (UTC)
Grad school was the best time of my life (so far). Hands down, no question. I spent my entire childhood wanting to be in graduate school, just for its own sake, and I was not disappointed. But then, I am a very weird person.
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