[Posted on behalf of Materials Girl]
Some say that you go to college to find out who you really are, but I say that undergrad is just the starting point. Maybe you agonized for the first couple years about your major, or you had your next ten years planned out since high school — give or take changes once actually reaching university. For those who end academia at a Bachelor’s, sure, that’s enough to get a job and to establish a career. From there, real life, and the real you.
However, for the poor wretches who choose to stay in the protective cocoon of Academia, even grad school may only be a step in development. We are expected to have a solid background in our department, knowledge in all subfields (or the ability to cram it in the week before prelims), and a fund-able project to pursue for the next 4–8 years. We are expected to work much, sleep little, and produce small miracles on a small salary. It is doable, yet it also feels as though we are kept too busy to take a step back and evaluate our lives. Being grounded only by science is a precarious situation — what if your research fails? Any amount of intelligence cannot force nature to act otherwise. Is self-reflection a necessity? No, not to your adviser. Past age 25 or so, though, we really are in the regime of adulthood. (Then again, many “real” adults haven’t a clue about what to do with THEIR lives, either.)
Sometimes it also feels as though grad school is simply a rite of passage. Our superiors went through the same process, with varying degrees of pain and toil. We are then expected to have that PhD and list of publications on our resumés — the stamp of approval that magically reflects our capabilities as researchers, multi-taskers, and not-completely-insane individuals. It isn’t for everyone, but I can already feel the disdain of some “higher-ups” if I announce my decision to leave academia with only a Master’s. (The reasons why are for a future post.)
It’s been less than a year since I became a grad student, and there’s still much to learn. For now, my most far-reaching question remains: Is it worth pursuing a PhD? Either I haven’t found the right project or group to excite me, or research just isn’t my thing…