An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, AGAIN
Cary Tennis is becoming the go-to advice columnist for the grads. As usual, I want to ask the author of the letter, “Where is your advisor and why isn’t this person doing his or her job?” But I digress … it’s to Cary Tennis we must turn.
A week ago, the grad student in question wonders why the life of the mind isn’t thrilling her the way it used to:
I’m at a top-ranked graduate school, and I’ve been purring along, performing my graduate student duties, and feeling really good about myself and what I’m doing. Then my good friend and colleague quit a professorship that had taken over and ruined her life. Post-docs are now telling me that they have no job prospects and that they wish they had known earlier. The whole premise of my efforts has crumbled. I feel like I’ve been duped, but my advisor keeps acting like pursuing his profession is the only way to be happy. The more I think about it, the less and less I want to do this for a living.
…on the inside I feel like I’ve been hollowed out like a pumpkin.
I’ll bring my Sense & Sangria to the table. This letter is fascinating because it seems as if the student was happy in school, and if what he or she says is true, the student has a shot at a job because they’re attending a top-tier program. What brought on that “hollowed-out pumpkin” feeling seems to be … peer pressure, more than anything else. The person mentions the plight of her friends and colleagues first.
Advice after the jump! Advice-themed comic book cover from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Dear Advice-Seeker: That’s terrible for your friends, but just because your friends encountered bad situations doesn’t mean you will. And you might just be burnt out, which means you need to read the Post Academic Burnout series from the past few days. Now, nine times out of ten I will advocate bailing if you are unhappy, but I’m not going to deny anyone a dream, especially if the person is in a good situation and was actually happy at one point. This particular grad student had what seems to be (again, if the letter is accurate) a sudden change in heart.
In this case, I would advise the person to give it another semester and to take an analytical look at the job outlook. If people in the grad student’s field and from the grad student’s field have been getting jobs and the grad student is actually happy and not just in a rough patch, then why go? A more logical approach might work here rather than an emotional one.
The grad student did actually turn to his or her advisor. Alas, the advisor was unhelpful, which means the grad student needs to visit the advisor again or talk to another advisor. The purpose is to discuss job opportunities and just how likely it is that he or she will find a good job. It is the advisor’s responsibility to be honest about job prospects. And, if the student can’t find a decent advisor, then maybe it really is time to go …