Check Marks

I’m in my second year of graduate studies now. So far it’s not been bad; the material and classes are interesting, professors and comrades are nice, research is chugging along, I’m getting adequately funded, so no real major problems. Except for one. Graduate school is much different from undergraduate study. When a person is an undergrad, their main focus is class work and knowledge gaining. Their goal is to get the sufficiently understand the material that is presented to them (usually measured in the form of good grades).  It’s almost like additional years of high school, only being more selective in the field of study. Grad school is entirely different. While the first couple of years may be there to get more knowledge in the field of study, the majority of the knowledge is gathered through ‘extracurricular activities’, stuff like reading books on one’s own time, or reading through journal articles, not through classes. Furthermore, a hugely significant component of graduate school is not gathering knowledge but generating knowledge in the form of research. One has to be able to take the information one that learned, create hypotheses about unknown phenomena, and craft a plan to test those hypotheses. These differences are significant differences that require one key difference in the individual, drive.

In undergraduate school, if one did not enjoy the material they were studying, there was something still pushing, namely the grade. Grades were still an excuse to put in (some) work in trying to understand the material. They was a need to do well every week in each assignment, every month in each test/paper, and every quarter/semester for a good grade. In graduate school, the grades don’t matter much (except for a Master’s student who plans to do a PhD at a different university). What really matter’s is one’s inner drive. Sure, there is always the motivation of getting a published, especially in a high-impact journal, giving a lecture at some conference, and eventually getting a job, preferably one that is tenured. But these goals have such fluid deadlines which are set by the person. Getting published will happen only happen when you discover good information that will advance your field of study. That will only happen when you finish your highly replicated experiment. And that will only happen when you muster the willpower to actually go out and do that experiment. If one does not have the inner drive, inner want to finish that experiment, that person will fail in academia.

I feel like that person. Am I getting good grades in classes? Yes. Is my research progressing? Yes. Am I on time to finish my graduate studies in an adequate manner? So far, yes. But I’m just hitting the check marks without any really wanting to. I do it because I need a job. I do it because I’m not sure what else I’d do. I do it because I’m stuck here and I might as well finish it (odd considering my research project which is on the Concorde fallacy). I’m not doing it but I want to. Don’t get me wrong , the material is fascinating, and I’m really excited to see the outcome. But I don’t think I can do this for the rest of my life. I can’t read the literature, or constantly come up with ideas in this field of study. Hell, I don’t even know my study. Is it foraging? Is it animal behaviour? Is it small rodents? What is it? I only came up with a cool research project. I didn’t read some book on some topic and think to myself “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I just had an idea. At this point, without the passion that is required of graduate study, I am merely ticking off the require boxes with check marks.

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