My frantic six months of graduate school applications, interviews, and decisions has been at an end for a month now and I’m only now starting to get over the shock and awe phase. Now during this weird intermission in my life before I move from working girl to student (unfortunately not the reverse) I’m starting to contemplate what it means to be in graduate school and what I should be doing there…I’ve turned to the blog #WHATSHOULDWECALLGRADSCHOOL too many times with shoulder slumping results.
People ask me what I’m going to do next and when I tell them I’m going for my PhD, that follows with a second question that it seems PhD students themselves don’t even know: “so, WHAT are you going to be doing excatly?” The path to a PhD differs for everyone and it seems like a really hard journey to a really elitist club, and I’m sure some people treat it that way. In fact, I think the PhD process is just really hard to define rather than just hard, a kind of nebulous space where expectations are vague, accomplishments hit or miss, and a “wow” is given to those who make it because “making it” has so much luck involved. Sure you have to work hard, but two people working equally hard can have frustratingly unequal results. One inevitably wonders, what lab deity did that guy bow down to for that result?? And while many things in science seem so analytical and logical and straightforward, the PhD process is remarkably anything but, with more meanderings, dead ends, and dropouts than anyone tells you at the beginning. It seems to deny explanation…except to explain why it takes ten years. Literally.
Someone has attempted to pin down EXACTLY what I will and should be learning in my PhD, in true scientific fashion with lots of tables and analysis, published recently in a very good journal. It’s as if to say, if you’re not doing all of this in graduate school you’re just not doing it right. It’s titled “Skill Development in Graduate Education” (Parker et al. Mol. Cell, Vol46:4, 25 May 2012, 377–381) and I took a peak just to scare myself a little more. Effort successful. The first figure attempts to summarize the key components of my impending graduate education with more arrows that I can ever follow one to the other. Will it really be like this?
A figure later in the text actually says one must “Prepare your mind before reading”. If the goal of this article is to try and elucidate more clearly what graduate students are supposed to do, I’m not sure that’s doing it. What someone can teach me how to “prepare my mind” unless they’re Yoda? Does this mean watching Star Wars again is research related? I guess I could do that… Research seems full of counter intuitive notions, notice I must be “Broad” (twice) but also “Deep.” I should be analytical and yet still creative, can you even learn to be creative?
My personal take away from this is to freak out a little, then “prepare my mind” with a nice vacation and some complete and total laziness before getting started on following all those intense and frenetic arrows pointing every which way. Hopefully one of them will be labeled “Making it” and I’ll follow that one. If any of you see it, let me know.