Ah, week nine, how I love thee. With you comes the deluge of final papers, homework assignments and late nights filled with caffeine and frantic reading, trying to catch up with the syllabus the professor never quite stuck to in the first place.
Week nine, you bring us one step closer to the end of the year and the god-awful question of what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives. A quick survey shows that many students are inclined towards graduate school, the dream of lecturing glassy-eyed men and women and brandishing those three little consonants after their name gives them a certain sense of purpose and direction.
The pursuit of a higher degree, however, seems to also be one of the most mind-numbing and soul-sapping chases a body can engage in. The life of a perpetual student, while glamorous in a geeky way, seems to be fit only for the most hardened academic – or, at least the most naive.
This bleak view of obtaining a Ph.D. came out of my own desire to spend the rest of my days pouring over books and encouraging eager minds. So, being the pseudo-journalist that I am, I decided to seek out some testimonies on the graduate school process.
My first stop was at the office of a TA acquaintance of mine, who stroked both my ego and my desire. She told me that graduate school was a breeze; easy to get into and the workload was probably much easier than what I was currently experiencing as an undergraduate. All I need to do is take my GREs, pick my school of choice and I’ll be set for life.
Fantastic, I thought. I can spend the next few years of my life comfortably holed up in the ivory tower; with any luck I’ll have a room with a view.
But those damn pseudo-journalistic tendencies kicked in again, and I sought more information. This time, I journeyed down to La Verne, where I visited Brad Williams, a teacher from my high school days who constantly reminded me that I wasn’t brilliant, just a hard worker. Williams – his students called him “Doc” – had received a doctorate from UCI but ended up teaching high school for altruistic reasons. In between classes, I cornered and questioned him.
Doc painted a different picture than the rosy pastoral the TA presented me. He said I could expect to spend the next eight to ten years of my life – at least – jumping through hoops and working on a thesis that I, in all probability, wouldn’t finish. Always a blunt man, he told me that I probably wouldn’t find work and would spend the rest of my days busing trays or, if I was lucky, taking orders.
My spirits crushed, I limped home to UCSB hoping to seek out a professor that would tell me Doc’s bleak version of the future was just the indefatigable venom supply of a bitter old man. Unfortunately, I found Doc’s story to be supported by one of my professors this quarter.
Getting a Ph.D. isn’t necessarily a bad thing, he told me, but go into it without illusions. Be prepared to spend the rest of your life whoring yourself out to universities in hopes of job security and teaching a subject that you didn’t much care for in the first place. He told me he got lucky – his shaky battle for tenure is nearly won; most of the people he graduated with now had their spirits ground into a fine paste fit for the elderly and enfeebled.
Leave it to the university system to turn the pursuit of knowledge into a brothel.
Thank god, I told myself afterwards, I’ve still got another year to find a possible career path. For those out there who truly and deeply love their studies, you better have an iron will and dwell in good fortune’s favors.
Just remember, I would like fries with that.
Daily Nexus columnist Steven Ruszczycky has never worked a day in his life. He’d like to keep it that way. His column runs Tuesdays.