Saturday, August 23, 2008

Woe to the Woah

At my University it was the first week of classes. I am auditing one class this semester about macromolecular structure and it is very interesting. Sitting in class feels like a treat! It is also a bit odd as I am constantly reminded of how I know almost nothing about Biochemistry. This is a new feeling because I selected my focus before my senior year of college and from my senior year until now (my 3rd year of grad school), all of my courses have had some overlap and they became second nature to me. Now, sitting in a course I know nothing about, I consistently guess incorrectly (out loud and in my head) and this is a new thing for me. I am about 10 for 10 of incorrect in class answers. This is doing wonders for my self- esteem. ;)

The most thought provoking incident of the week occurred on Thursday. I lead a Women in Chemistry group of graduate students, and we were asked to hold a breakfast and lunch for a seminar speaker. The speaker is a smart soft spoken woman who works at a national lab. She is only 1.5 years out of graduate school so her point of view was really applicable to my group.

Having lunches with professional PhD women is one of the most common activities of my Women's group. The goal of these lunches is to rejuvenate and inspire us, to provide us glimpses of careers of our futures, and to provide us with positive female role models. The funny thing was that after this breakfast-lunch combo, at least 50% of my group were either crying or thinking of crying and wanting to quit graduate school. ... Mission Accomplished.

I wasn't crying, but I felt the same way. Jips asked me: What did she say to make you all so upset? I thought about that and I thought about the underlying assumptions that we had about our future life that made the speakers talk such a rude awakening. I came up with a few reasons for our woe.

Reasons for Woe
1. College is Awesome. For most of us, college is the first time (that we think) we are treated as adults. We go to class, have a part time job, workout, and hang out with friends. The thing about college is that you have a TON of free time. Well, I had a TON of free time because I never took 18 hours in one semester. But the sad truth is: college is nothing like real adult life. The truth is that most Americans work very hard at their jobs, and college educated Americans (more often than not) work more than 40 hours a week. This in itself is a shocker if you think college is the begining of your adult life.

2. Most women in my group came to get their PhD straight out of college. Our graduate program requires more than 40 hours a week for the first two years. Add to that the emotional toll of our peon status of graduate students, the fact that we make as much as a wall-mart grocery bagger, and you get some weary kids. One girl told me this: You know what our problem is? We liked Chemistry in college, so we got fooled into thinking that graduate school was a good idea. And now we are stuck in this 10 foot deep cylinder of shit that we can't get out of. Perhaps I embellished that a bit. Regardless, it is true. Getting a PhD in Science can suck ass, especially in the first 2 years when the demands are high.

Enter our speaker who said:
-I thought I worked hard in grad school, but now I work so much harder and I am so much busier.
-I work five 10 hour days, and then about five or six hours on Sunday. I feel like I get to see my husband all the time because we go running every night after work, and on Saturday we sleep in and then run errands together.

To someone who is barely holding on now in grad school, this sounds like a bleak future.

From Woe to woah.

I thought about this some more, and it does seem true that most educated people in America work hard at their jobs. So why should I look forward to my future?

1. My Peon Status won't last forever. Feeling like an expert at work rather than a slave has got to do wonders for the enjoyment you can get out of your job.

2. Everyone in America works hard, but I will be getting paid a large amount of money for the work I do.

3. I will probably be working with other highly educated adults. This has got to beat being a first grade teacher, or waiting tables.

4. I like science, research, development, and optimization. When I was in undergrad, a grad student in the lab where I worked told me: You would probably like grad school because you really like research. That helps me even now. I do LOVE research, and focusing on the science and how cool it is helps me like my job now, and will probably help in the future.

So why do I have a photo of the guy with a power tool? Cause I learned how to drill this week! My research has required me to do a construction project and it is awesome. I am going slow (Because I have never built anything before.) But so far my project looks good and very sturdy. So I am enjoying work a ton this week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm, this is interesting, perhaps because me and my friends have a different perspective on this.

In our undergrad, between classes, the robotics club, hw, labs, being TAs, and maybe another club or two, we had 50+ hour weeks regularly. To be fair, we enjoyed clubs we were in so that may not have counted.

Coops were a required part of our undergrad degree. So, we'd have quarters off from school where we'd work 8-5 jobs at an engineering company. The almost universal agreement from this was that "work is much easier than school". Why? Because we were expected to work hard, 40,50, maybe 60 hours. But once we left work, that was it. No more thinking about it, no doing extra research for it, no reading to catch up. So, we internalized that concept.

I think our experiences allowed us to quickly learn how to adapt between the academic world and real world. I don't know if it's a sad thing though that we're so accepting of this that it doesn't bother us too much that we're not going to have much of a personal life. I guess we're the group that will continue to carry on the "geek" stereotype.