Deciding on attending graduate school?

If you are a college junior or a senior wondering whether to go to grad school or not, hopefully this might help. However, this is valid more generally. It is imperative for most of you to be under pressure by your peers, family and the whole world itself. People start comparing with friends and other students to see if they can stay ahead in a so called ‘great competition’. ‘They’ say the competition is real. You should be on top of the world. So a natural advice would be to find your ‘passion’ and follow in the footsteps of your successful alumni/role model/idol in that field. It seems like the world expects you to figure it out all by yourself very quickly. That is not how humans and world work. As far as my wisdom goes, every individual is different and everyone has his/her own way of going about things in life. One may like to take more pressure, one might like to live life in a very leisure way. One might like to spend more time away from work.

Did you ever really spend time figuring out who exactly you are in life? Did you ever wonder why identical twins who look exactly same and brought up in exactly same environment grow up to be two very different individuals?

It might sound crazy to you but trust me you will feel a lot better after reading and trying this. I call this the process of ‘self-discovery’ and it is neither easy nor quick. There is nothing called ‘the moment of truth’ or ‘the judgement day’. It will not happen in a day, week, or even in a month. It takes years to figure out who you are. Then the answers to questions such as what do you want in life and how to go about achieving it, will be consequently answered. There are thousands of books, blogs, videos that talk about this process of self-discovery. For example, ‘they’ say that you need to be spiritual, religious or renounce the worldly pleasures to see who you really are. ‘They’ may be right. While I am not judging their ways, I found something really helpful, which might even be a shortcut in this process.

First of all – make up your mind and convince yourself that it is worth spending time to do this. Now, allocate a solid weekend. Go to a place alone where there is no Wi-Fi, people, etc. (you get the idea – A serene place, for example a lake, a beach, or similar). Put your phone in silent mode and start watching the nature for some time so that you should lose track of time. Don’t listen to any music. Pay utmost detail to the environment around you. Watch and listen carefully to each and everything around you. Just be present as much as you can. A thousand things may pass through your mind while doing so, just ignore them and try to focus on the environment. Practice observing the nature for at least half an hour. I know it is very hard to do so. But take a leap of faith! This practice helps you get on top of all the noise in your mind.

Now start thinking about some of the best moments of your life. Start visualizing those memories and focus on moments where you were this mindful while doing something.

Did you ever really extend/polish/overdo any projects related to your major both in and out of academics?

Do you love/enjoy reading more and more about any news, articles, books (both fiction and non-fiction) related to your major?

Were you that mindful while listening to your professors in the class?

Did you ever feel ‘mind-blown’ while listening to a lecture or a talk related to your major?

Did you ever feel the urge to learn more about a specific chapter/lesson/project?

Did you feel the urge to ask more and more questions which appear to be more abstract in nature but about the field in general?

Do you like to discuss about science/your related major more often when you look back at your most recent conversations with people?

If these questions struck a chord with you, then you might want to attend a grad school. Otherwise, you might want to reconsider your options.

The exercise I just talked about gives you a sense of direction and not even close to a decision. To come to a conclusion you need to do a lot of research and talk to a lot of people (I mean really!). I received some of the best advice from my professors and other alums who were pursuing graduate studies.

  • A lake in Bloomington, IN

Monroe Lake in Bloomington, IN

 

Being Married in Grad School

Copyright (Jorge Cham, 2015)

It is often said that Graduate school and Marriage are similar in many ways.

  1. Time Commitment – Typically grad school commitments are between 5-7 years (Ph.D.) which is a substantial amount of time given the usual 3-4 years of high school and college. However, for marriage you make a life-long commitment, but during that time is included the years that you do research, take courses, and work with your advisor. So you have an overlap of graduate school and personal time, but this can be of benefit as being married to someone who is supportive can be the best catalyst to finishing the Ph.D. in a timely manner and avoiding the dreaded perpetual ABD status.
  2. Partnership – When you decide to attend grad school you are paired with an advisor/mentor so that during your time in the program you have someone to guide you. This emulates being married in the pairwise relation between two individuals with a common goal: earning a Ph.D., publishing research, and being ultimately being happy. It takes “two to tango” is true for both your Ph.D. journey and life as a spouse. There is no “I” in Team so you both have to work together to achieve your team and individual goals. If this partnership does not work, then nothing will get done.
  3. Productivity – I find that as a newly married doctoral graduate student, being married and committing to spending the rest of your life with another person can often be the greatest support for your dream of a  rewarding career in academia. Most often having another person(i.e. spouse or advisor) encouraging you in times where you need to be productive can make the difference between submitting a mediocre or excellent paper.

Final Thoughts: Given the benefits of being married while in grad school, do not be dissuaded of making a commitment to the one you love when you are faced between the rigor of grad school. The benefits typically outweigh any potential limitation.