Neil Sandhu is a biomedical engineering senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
I always found the term “commencement” to be a patronizing blend of optimism and devaluation. On the glass-half-full side, it seems to, at least stylistically, offer us a spot in the brave new world that is our lives outside of school. It is a welcome party to the rest of our fruitful existence.
On the other hand, it insinuates that the first 20-some odd years of our lives are just a warm up, as if we were playing with training wheels and now we get to start doing something that matters.
Fortunately, there is a practical way to further prolong your inevitable arrival into the real world: keep going to school.
Oh there are masters and blended’s and doctorates too. There are law schools and med schools and MBAs for you!
Fine, maybe the prospect of slamming your face against a book for the next arbitrary number of years isn’t enough to make you start humming the same Seussian tune as me, yet as we get closer and closer to June, I hear more and more of my colleagues talk a little too casually about lacing up for another few rounds of bare-knuckle academia.
There are a plethora of reasons for attending graduate school: the opportunity to perform research under industry-leading professionals, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge or even just because you like the sound latex gloves make when you peel them off.
There is, however, one reason that certainly does not warrant another trip through the scholastic wringer: being unsure about what you want to do for the rest of your life.
The main purpose of a graduate program is to provide candidates with resources they need to study a topic in depth, sufficient enough that they become an expert in their chosen niche field of study. The purpose of graduate school is not to offer us another chance at academic soul searching and even if it was, it almost certainly wouldn’t work.
We have spent the majority of our lives in school. If by this point the classroom hasn’t been able to offer you certainty in terms of what pinprick-sized area of study you want to concentrate on for the next 30-something years, another year or two of coursework will almost certainly not help.
Albert Einstein once said insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The guy has his own statue on campus; he may be worth listening to on this one.
If 16 years of school left you unsure about what you want to do, it may be time to step away, at least for the time being. Working in the industry may offer you insight you never found in the bottom of a cup of Julian’s coffee.
Taking an indefinite hiatus from academia isn’t a cop out, it is actually the norm. The average age of students in graduate programs is 33 years old. This number has held constant since the mid ‘80s. This data suggests the majority of graduate students took a leave of absence before they felt ready to return. Similarly sourced data shows older graduate students are far more likely to find success than their baby-faced counter parts.
Now, this isn’t a charge against everyone who will make a seamless transition from lowly undergrad to overworked graduate student. If you are one of the “woke” few who somehow have an idea what pea-sized piece of this world you want to study for the next few years, then I admire your confidence. I wish you the best in your academic pursuits.
But if you’re not, I implore you to consider the possibility that continuing school may be as introspectively unhelpful as it has been for the past 16 years.
Really, all I’m trying to say here is that flirting with the idea of going back to school is the scholastic equivalent of when old rockstars talk about doing reunion tours.
If you are the Mick Jagger of school, your body thrives on minimal sleep and stimulants and you know you were born to do this, then going back to school might be right for you.
But if you’re like Leonard Cohen and the only reason you’re doing this is because you have no idea what you’re going to do for money otherwise, it’s probably a good idea to take a breather on the applications.