Post Academic

Surviving Grad School: An Increasing Number of Empty Chairs

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on March 14, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOne of the best parts of grad school was a weekly tradition we had called “Victorian Lunch,” where grad students picked up take-out meals and ate outside on UCI’s campus. The lunch probably should have been called “Novel Lunch,” as I wasn’t even a Victorian, but the topics were up my alley. Of course, the lunch wasn’t all about academic subjects, and I picked up plenty of practical advice, some of which I wish I knew before going to grad school.

In fact, I believe it was my former advisor, Homer Brown, who told a fascinating story about his first class in his first year in grad school. He admitted that the professor instilled fear into the hearts of the students through a simple exercise, one that you should probably try if you go to grad school yourself:

1. Look to your left.
2. Look to your right.
3. Take note that both of those chairs will be empty by the end of the year.

The genius of the exercise was that everyone would be gone, yet the person in the middle could still cling to the fact that she might be the exception.

Obviously, Homer must have finished, so I asked him what happened to the people on his left and his right. He said, “I don’t know about the one on the right, but the one on the left started wearing black, stopped speaking, and popped out of the bushes on campus.” I take it that the guy didn’t stick around for long.

Grad school is a weed-out process. I lasted two years (or I could say that my health lasted for two years: See: “Grad School Made Me Puke.” But that’s nothing compared to some of my peers. One guy in UCI’s starting class was outta there after the first week, and no one knew what triggered his sudden departure.

If you enter graduate school, remember to go because you’ll enjoy the journey. Unlike other professional tracks, like law school, the outcome isn’t as clear, but, if you plan wisely, you’ll emerge with skills that you can take elsewhere.

Photo of chair by Ellywa from Wikimedia Commons.

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