So Let it be Written, So Let it be Done!

February 18, 2010

When will I be Done?

Filed under: grad school,kamakula,rant — kamakula @ 8:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

This question probably pops into my mind at least once a week. That measurement is not an average – perhaps it is better phrased as “it pops into my mind every week”, just some weeks I spend more time thinking about it than others. Going strictly by the requirements for the degree, my school requires about 4 years to complete. Official documentation suggests students taking more than 6 years may find themselves booted without a degree. While I don’t expect to take up to 6 years, I’m likely going to push close to four. And that’s even accounting for already having a Master’s degree.

Then again, in the grand scheme of things, my degree doesn’t matter – well the grand scheme of things that encompasses only my graduate school. Why? We are allowed to transfer up to 30 credits (10 classes x 3 credits)  of “graduate” work. Due to my . . .unconventional passage through my undergraduate program, I barely have that many classes available. Furthermore, I cannot transfer a course similar to one I’ve taken here or a course for which there isn’t an analogue. That rule eliminates about half my eligible courses. So, I ended up only transferring a bit over a semester of classes. That doesn’t even shave off a year from the time here – though theoretically, if I’d started the graduate program at this school, by the time I would’ve received the Masters degree, I would have completed about 2-2.5 years of the program towards the PhD.

So, what does this mean for me? Well, when my dad calls and wonders why (now) two years after starting, I still have not graduated, what can I say? I’m tempted to bring up this issue, but it feels weak as an argument, that the extra effort in getting a Masters degree only netted me about one semester in a 4 year program (instead of 4). All the other requirements that normally would have been fulfilled by that degree still need to be completed. What about research, do I have a dissertation topic? No. Well, what are you waiting for? I’m still working on coming up with one. Why, just get yourself an adviser who has open topics, then you could be done, right? Well. . . and what can I say?

I could argue that then I’d be working on something or a topic where I don’t have much interest. We’ve had this discussion several times before. About almost everything I’ve done since high school. When I took 6 months to get a job and refused to apply to the (at the time) numerous jobs in EM fields area so that I could find a robotics or embedded systems engineering job, I was told “Why does it matter – you’re going back to school anyway”. Now it’s “All that matters is that you have a PhD, not what you got it in”.

Perhaps that is true. And for some, that may be enough. Perhaps that is the immigrant attitude, get a terminal degree in some field and take the high paying job afterwards. But for me, this has not just been about a stepping stone to some higher place. Perhaps I am lucky in that I have the luxury of giving up so much of my life for the pursuit of something where I don’t really have a significant economic interest. Because honestly, if it were about money, if I never went back to school, I’d have been making more by the time I graduate than I could immediately command with a PhD.

Well, is it that you love research or teaching? While the answer is yes, I do enjoy those things, they are not alone in the core of my rationale. The core reason, what made me fill out those applications at costs of $1000+ when I was broke, what made me leave a nice job in a nice climate zone, was that this is something I’d always wanted to do. It is not quite a feather to line my cap, it is an experience that I am determined to have. An experience, like visiting the White House or traveling to a foreign country. So I do it, and do it my way. And in doing so, wonder if I’m losing a part of myself and feel like some sort of interloper amongst those who are motivated for other reasons.

Almost two years ago, I read a book entitled So You Want a PhD. I probably even wrote a post about it. I’m sure it is one of those events that turned the tide from me feeling depressed about my life back to optimism. I guess it comes to mind today because once again I sit pondering what is the real path to take between here and graduation? How do I live my life as a person who absolutely hates to borrow money from anyone, especially his parents, but for the past two months has been unpaid due to the bureaucracy of paperwork?

And I wonder how this affects my personal life and relationships. Certainly I know how it affects my activities with friends. I make excuses as to why I can’t go out because I don’t have the money to support such an activity. I wonder if I’m stupidly hanging on to some life I can’t have now because I have a car – which sadly now needs replacement parts I cannot afford. I live in an apartment with rent that seems reasonable, but I know there are much cheaper smaller places out there.

In my attempt to have it all, be a grad student, work on side projects at other schools, own a car, live in a relatively nice neighborhood, hang out with friends, have a relationship, perhaps I’ve just setup the situation where I can have none. Maybe I should have listened to those who told me to just focus on the school work, live in some apartment with 2 other grad students, leave only to goto my lab or get food, wall off all other distractions and be done with it.

Earlier this week, it occurred to me that regardless of where I am in life, I will always never have enough time. Work consumes a good chunk of my week. I’m constantly working on side projects. I’m constantly fixing a car that breaks down. If I were to just “focus” on one thing, there will never come a time when I could have it all. I would have gone from focusing on my undergrad work to focusing on my graduate research to focusing on my job. For what? So that I live out the image someone else has of a successful life and career? So that I attain some success which means less to me than it does to others? Or maybe they were right and I’m just trying to lie to myself and justify the life I’ve lived so far.

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