Maria has an awesome post about her thoughts upon wrapping up her Master’s thesis. It captures the kind of shifts one can have in figuring out what to do, who to be, and how schooling fits into all of that — and how what’s at stake is as much emotional as it is intellectual. She writes:
I have found that clinging too stubbornly to long-term goals is actually bad for me. Not because the goals themselves are bad, but I tend to become emotionally overinvested in them, and then I freak! out! at the slightest threat to my success. Learning to keep things in perspective has meant, for me, appreciating that lots of things can happen between now and the completion of my Five-Year Plan.
- If you doubt the existence of the fight-or-flight response to threats, graduate school will dispel those doubts. Even if you’re not the one fighting or fleeing the various challenges to your self-image as a competent human being, you’ll see your classmates do so. But as useful as this instinctive response can be, it is bound to make you wonder what your real motivations are for slogging onward or bailing out. This can be unnerving.
- Lots of people seem to have love/hate relationships with academia. Sometimes it turns on an inability to commit. Sometimes it’s an abusive relationship.
- I’ve heard that some people are very good at maintaining a clear distinction between what they do and who they are. I have a feeling most of those people aren’t in academia. (I’m not even going to speculate on whether such people might be generally happier, because I don’t know that that would help those of us who identify strongly with our work to be any happier.)
- Possibly the feeling of accomplishing a big project is so awesome because of the many stretches of time preceding its completion when it looks entirely implausible that you could ever pull it off successfully. If only those “This is never going to work!” moments were more fleeting.
- In my experience (both times), the serious periods of thesis writing have made me feel really isolated. This probably was a side-effect of my efforts to block out distractions and get down to it. But looking ahead to a year in which I need to accomplish some serious writing, I’m hoping I can find a way to do it that doesn’t leave me feeling cut off from the human community.
- I love research to my bones, but it’s still seriously hard.
- I love teaching to my bones, but after six years of increasing enrollments, I think it will be best for everyone that I take a short break from it.
- A person can love academia and still see other
peopleprofessional communities, right?
- Is there ever a point in one’s academic career where it doesn’t feel like people are keeping score (or at least, where that isn’t so far in the foreground of the experience)? If so, will I live long enough to experience it for myself?
*Loose connections are what I can produce at the moment, as I pass through the valley of the shadow of gigantic piles of grading (which might well turn out to be deadly).