Bitter grad students


One of the things I find most unpleasant about grad school is dealing with the older, bitter grad students. It is impossible to say if I will feel that way when I get there, but for some reason I just don’t have much patience for their attitudes. I know that grad school can suck, so I might be more empathetic, as I’m usually a very empathetic person. But some of these students, I read their attitudes as a result of their having expected more, and I find that foolish. Which may be totally irrational of me. But I’ve read a lot of stuff about grad school and academia life – the Chronicle career articles, books on parenting in academia, and an informative guide for PhD students.

Maybe, after gathering all of this information, I still have no idea what I’m in for. But I’m not sure. I kind of think I know what I’m in for, and I made a calculated decision to accept it. And given that, I’m determined to make the best of it that I can. I employ many of the strategies in the book for PhD students, and they help me to do what I can about some of the parts of grad school that can stink. I knew all about my advisor before I accepted to work with this person, and I consciously chose this person more because I get along and work similarly than because I was ecstatic about the research in the group. Instead, I found that my area of passion was close enough to what is being done in the group to create a niche for myself that crosses over between what I am most interested in and what the group was already involved in, and that has worked for me so far. Sometimes I’m involved in projects that only slightly overlap with my stronger passions, but I’m a good sport about it and find things to enjoy in all of the projects.

Admittedly, I failed the quals and that sucks. But I am only finishing my first year of grad school and I have a paper that’s been accepted with its revisions, so I will be a published first author before the end of the year. So it seems entirely possible that having failed the quals and having to take them again could be the worst part of my time in graduate school.

I learned early on that there are many, many unspoken rules and hidden pitfalls in academia, and that likely no one will tell you so you’d better just prepare yourself. And my philosophy regarding grad school sucking is that if you know what you’re getting into, you can plan for it and do your best to make it work ok for you. So I really seem to have no patience for the jaded and bitter grad students. I mean, what did they expect when they got here? Am I misunderstanding these students? Am I really in for some great awakening as to how much grad school sucks?

To my readers: were you a bitter grad student? Why?

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One thought on “Bitter grad students

  1. No, not bitter. More like naive. When I hit the bitter stage, I got out and did something else for a while. Because for me, maintaining my perspective and a sense of self-worth was more important than fighting through the political morass my department was in at that point. But like most who come more or less straight from college without any serious work experience, I was idealistic about academia and unprepared for the petty bureaucracies and political intrigue that plague just about any job. Getting out to have some success in another field for a while gave me the confidence to return and finish what I wanted to do in the first place. By the time I went back, I had a husband, a kid and a backup career. My whole self-definition did not rise and fall on the way my work was received by a capricious faculty the way it once had. I’ve witnessed two different ways to stay in grad school and escape the bitterness. One is to be very businesslike and efficient, to tear through in a hurry, to pick a topic you can write about quickly. The other is to fall in love. The latter was my route. It’s messy and not at all efficient, but I kind of don’t care because I really, really love what I do.

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