Don't Grad School

Back in December, when I got re-started in Fediverse as Twitter started into its decline, I took the anniversary of my Ph.D. defense to briefly comment. Not much time has passed since then, but I felt the need to reiterate and put a stake my statement at the time.

Every time my group at work brings on a new graduate, I keep my mouth shut about grad school as long as possible. I don’t think anyone should be required to take on the baggage I’ve built up, or to listen to me yell at the clouds about it without active prompting. I don’t see value in trying to highlight my Dr-ness to get work done, and I want to save everyone the wasted time. My existing coworkers eventually let the new hires know about my Ph.D., spoiling the illusion I maintain of “just being another engineer.” At that point, the new graduate will usually ask about going back to graduate school for a theoretical Masters or Ph.D. I’ve found myself continually reaching for this statement, to read in full to them, to minimize the ranting I would fill their ears with otherwise.

Coming up on the 3rd anniversary of becoming a Ph.D.

Obligatory reminder: Graduate school is nearly universally a terrible, horrible, awful decision. It’s a career decision that will give you largely pseudo-prestige among groups of people with authoritarian values. It may give you some limited advanced knowledge, but that is not assured.

Most importantly, it is very easy for the environment to destroy your ability to regulate emotions, work habits, and to meaningfully rest your mind.

        - siriusfox1

Beyond that short advice, I’m take a moment to highlight the bizarre ways graduate school screws with my thoughts today. In spite of my coworkers, managers, family, and friends all providing reaffirming praise for my work, attitude, and outlook, I’m plagued by irrational fear of failing to meet expectations eventually. This isn’t inherently unique, but impostor syndrome doesn’t magically go away upon crossing the Ph.D. finish line. I also have visceral reactions to anything associated with my alma mater. If I see so much as license plate holder or window sticker when commuting referencing my college, my mind will crawl with rage and hatred for at least a few minutes (this is made worse by the painfully assertive attitude most alumni of my college typically have), and words that were once just part of my vocabulary are effectively off-limits in my own speech, owing to how concretely they are bound to a phase of my life that was so destructive.

Roughly 1/6th of my life was spent in a destructive and dysfunctional environment, but the impact it has on my mind is significantly larger than its relative duration. There are people I knew from before grad school, that intimately know who I am, that I have forgotten sans the ability to recognize their faces. These people know how I behave, what makes me tick, where my skills are, and where I will need help. I may see them at friends’ weddings and they might ask how I’ve been; I don’t even know what to tell them. Grad school is my river of styx, blocking both some of the painful baggage but also obfuscating nearly twenty years of all but the strongest and most long-lived of my friendships.

With all of that in mind, I don’t for a moment let someone waste so much of their youth considering or pursuing something as clearly worthless as an advanced degree without a eyes wide open to how easily the process can break people, and how little is likely to be gained from obtaining that degree.

Last modified on 2023-07-03