What Social Life?: The Truth About Choosing Academia

I’ve been in school my entire life. At 26 years old, I’ve qualified as a student for 80% of my existence. I am good at it, and anyone who makes it to and through a graduate-level program is likely good at it too. Nevertheless, being “good” at it doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. I enrolled in my PsyD (doctor of psychology, =/= PhD) program in Fall 2017. This has been the most isolating 14 months of my life.

Your 20s are this pseudo happy time in life. In the beginning, it seems lit. You’re finally 21, able to go to the club and drink, etc. Next thing you know you’ve been booted from your parents’ health insurance policy and you haven’t had a physical in two years. Choosing academia during this time is a social sacrifice. “It’ll all pay off,” is what I hear the most, but like, so and tf?

Is that an acceptable excuse? That it will “all pay off”?

Coachella at 30 is not the same as Coachella at 24, beloved.

TIME

I miss everything. Concerts, festivals, vacations, you name it. September through July I’m unavailable. Don’t ask me to go anywhere beyond the dates I’ve specified are okay (e.g., winter holiday, spring break). Don’t ask me to do anything that costs money at the last minute.

A while back a friend of mine asked what’s up with the culture of academia and time. Specifically, why is it that young professionals in grad programs are pressured to believe they need to dedicate their entire being into success in academia? Why is it that breaks/vacations/time off is frowned upon? This friend stated that “people take off across industries” and it’s made me reflect on how I use my time. When school is in-session I experience the need to always be busy. I feel guilty for having drinks after class or spending Saturday mornings watching Love and Hip Hop. But why?

Time is an interesting aspect of the isolation I’ve felt. I never have enough of it. I don’t keep up with my family and friends the way I should. I don’t work out as often as I’d like (both of my classmates have incorporated this into their life via at-home workouts or ~6am a few times a week). I don’t write as often as I’d like to. There is never enough time. This fuels the isolation because school-related tasks take priority over everything else. My girlfriend always says she wishes she could help; there is nothing anyone can do.

It’s hard to “live in the moment” when you have to study for multiple exams, revise a presentation, and hospitalize a client during the same week.

STRESS

I have a hard time discussing my program with people because there is an elitist attitude about being 1) in an accelerated psychology program and 2) at the doctorate level. In other words, unless your program meets the criteria listed, let’s not compare experiences. That isn’t tasteful, or how I interact with people, but I mean it. I would never discredit the experience of another doc/grad student. NEVER. I just don’t wish to compare stress from said program, because it isn’t purposeful. All programs have similarities, and there are experiences we (graduate students) share, but I cannot understand your experience any better than you can understand mine. Academic stress is different; constantly being evaluated while trying to figure yourself and your professional identity out is an uncomfortable experience. One minute you’re encouraged to be yourself, the next you’re being called into private meetings via email to discuss exactly that. The stress can feel multiplied when you don’t come from a family of scholars (i.e., generations of master’s or doctorate degrees). You find yourself mispronouncing words because you’ve only read them, or people look uncomfortable if you mention giving money to your parents. I’ve seen several social media threads attempting to tackle the layers of life as a graduate student.

MONEY

What money?

Lol.

SO…

Am I saying folks who didn’t choose academia can’t relate? Am I saying my complaints are more valuable than the next person’s? Am I saying choosing something other than academia will be easier? Hell no. What I am saying is, if you choose this route, be prepared. Nobody will understand better than your cohort, and that’s okay. One thing I admire most about millennials and our approach to life is our dedication to doing our own thing. However, when your “thing” isn’t as trendy as others, it kinda feels like you’re doing something wrong. Let me explain. We’re all aware of the millennial need to travel, for example. Suppose you’re not interested in that. At this point, it’s frowned upon to say so. Another thing is becoming rich; how else would you explain the spike in YouTube channels since we found out people get PAID as their views and subscribers increase? Suppose you’re totally okay living comfortably rather than being a millionaire. Obviously, we’d all like to be millionaires so humor me here. Anyway, suppose that’s not your “thing.” Would you admit that in a room full of 20-somethings? Now circle back to the sentence about doing something wrong.

Truth is, choosing academia in your mid-to-late 20s feels like running up the down escalator. “It’ll all pay off in the end,” though.

Peace, Love and Lil Wayne,

Killa

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