Posts Tagged ‘research’

I really hate how graduate school work requires ridiculously long hours. I was warned about this before I went in, but listening to a warning about something and actually experiencing something are totally different things.

This line of thought is made worse when you consider why graduate school requires such long hours. It’s a restriction applied based on money. Well, money and the convention that a Master of Science degree is supposed to take 2 years, and a PhD is supposed to take 5-6 years. My particular money restriction is just the contract I signed before I got here – I get 2 academic years on a TA. My tuition is waivered because I’m working for the university. But once those two years are up, even if I still have a summer of thesis research/writing to do (and let’s face, I have at least a summer), they stop paying me, and I have to start chipping in for tuition. Nevermind the fact that the methods I’m using are extremely time consuming. Nevermind the fact that I did a summer internship and lost a lot of time I could have been researching. It’s not like they’ll chuck me out (at least, I hope my advisor will let me stay until I’m finished, as does every graduate student), but they won’t help me pay my way anymore.

So here I am, working at least 12 hours a day, socializing minimally, if at all, throwing my hobbies (writing, reading, blogging, hiking, exploring the city, relaxing) into storage until my graduate school prison sentence is up. Yeah, that’s what it feels like to me. I go for weeks having forgotten what fun and happiness feel like. I’m not saying it’s like this for everyone, but it is for me. I hope I’ll look back on this experience and remember the good times. But right now they are much too few and far between for me to appreciate.

However, the only way out for me is through, and so I must persevere. I am confident, at least, that I’ll be finished in time for the holidays (hopefully sooner). But the tedium and endless to-do lists that seem to grow on a daily basis are really getting to me right now. I suppose I am in the home stretch, or very close to it at least. But there is still much to do.

In the interest of finishing as fast as possible and retaining a small fraction of my sanity, I need to go on a hiatus from blogging so I can make more time for doing thesis-related things, and so the things I do for fun don’t feel so much like chores that are only there to distract me (much as I enjoy doing them). Removing the need to blog will remove one of my weekly obligations, and theoretically lighten my stress load, which has reached critical mass. When I do anything fun (and I’m sure many graduate students can attest to feeling this way as well), it comes with an unfortunate feeling of guilt for taking a break from the thesis.

This article sums it up perfectly. So in a further attempt to remove distractions, the blog needs to go into storage with the rest of my happiness until I’m finished with this nightmare that is graduate school.

These feelings of misery were also spurred by the realization of a very stupid mistake I made while collecting my data. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a small setback, and I created a bunch more work for myself to re-do, while I should be moving on to something else.

Hopefully I shall return to you by the end of the summer, but for now – farewell. If you need a new blog to read, I highly recommend any and all of the blogs linked on my blog roll on the sidebar. Enjoy!

P.S. – If I think of anything that absolutely MUST be blogged about, you may see some bonus blog posts in the months to come before I graduate. But don’t expect to see anything until the end of August.

P.P.S. – If you are like me and you struggle with stress and anxiety, and you’re thinking about going to graduate school, think very carefully about how you feel about research versus taking classes. There are programs out there with non-thesis options, they just generally require you to pay for them. Consider this a warning from someone who is experiencing this right now – graduate school with research is a very high-stress environment. Make sure it’s what you want to do.

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Yes, we all know that academia is expensive. Student loans are abundant, and work study is limited. Having already earned my bachelors of science degree, I have plenty of student loans, and I never qualified for financial aid. This story is familiar to many college graduates.

But what I want to talk about in this post is the price of being a graduate student. Specifically, a graduate student in the sciences. This line of thought was spurred by two things: this article about the relationship between journalists and academics, and some recent proposed budget cuts at my university.

The point of this article is that there is a major disconnect between academics and journalists who want to write stories about academics and their research. They claim that the root of this problem stems from a highly flawed and expensive system for spreading said academic research.

“The real problem is that the primary system for disseminating academic research — through professional journals and working papers — doesn’t work for anyone but academics, and it may not even work for them. Professional journals are wildly expensive to subscribe to and bizarrely difficult to keep up with… The journal system also fractures academic knowledge across dozens of different publications. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the papers being published. There’s no centralized list.”

“Professional journals are wildly expensive to subscribe to and bizarrely difficult to keep up with.” Major universities have the money to subscribe to most of these, but while doing both undergraduate and graduate research, I have had to special order specific papers and books from the Interlibrary Loan system (ILliad) – which is often problematic because you have to wait an unknown amount of time to obtain said papers and books. They are just too expensive for one university to have them all. And during the two years I wasn’t in school? No chance of looking at anything beyond the abstract because if you aren’t a student, your access to most academic research is cut off. Sure, you can pay for subscriptions, but that gets expensive fast. Academic journals aren’t like regular magazines, and their publishers know they can get away with these prices because universities will pay for them.

But shouldn’t academic research be public knowledge? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to educate themselves and be able to keep up with the research in their field of study, long after they’ve earned a degree? I certainly think so.

Sure, it costs money to print the journals, but we all know most faculty and students are finding the research papers online these days. But do they really need to cost an arm and a leg? [Edit:] Peer reviewers aren’t paid, either, it’s something that goes toward their quest for tenure, in most cases. So why do academic journals cost so much? Knowledge is priceless, but I’m not saying academic journals need to be free, just a hell of a lot cheaper than they are.

Let’s not forget the other piece to this. Academic journal articles are indeed nearly impossible to keep up with these days. In the past few decades, the number of papers being published has increased exponentially. Based on what I’ve been told by members of the faculty in my department at my university, this is because standards have gotten lower, and expectations have gotten higher. Most PhD students are required to publish three academic papers to graduate. In order for one of those PhD graduates to become a professor, they’re expected to publish many more papers than that. Then, if and when they do become professors? They’re expected to publish several papers a year. As a result, research gets sloppy, and this is only apparent to those people paying attention in their particular field. In addition, it’s extremely difficult to stay on top of new research, which makes being a graduate student particularly difficult – we don’t want to repeat what someone else has already done. I don’t really understand how this came about, but this is the situation. Which leads me to my other favorite line in this article:

“Between the problems of the journals and the oddities of the working papers, journalists lack an easy way to follow the work of academics. That leads to the kind of frustration Kristof articulated: Journalists know that academia holds a universe of valuable information; they just can’t find a reliable way to tap it.”

I have established that the system is extremely flawed, and I don’t have a solution, but I am highly motivated to start searching for one after I earn my second degree. Perhaps I will take my blogging skills and try to bridge this gap between journalists and academics. I found the closing statement of this article inspiring:

“…it would be better if academics didn’t have to blog, or know a blogger, to get their work in front of interested audiences. That would require a new model for disseminating academic work — one that gets beyond the samizdat system used for working papers on the one hand, and the rigid journal publication system on the other. If academia was easier to keep up with, I think a lot of academics would be surprised to learn how many journalists care about their work, and I think a lot of journalists would be happy to find how much academic research can do for their stories.”

So, let’s start working on some brilliant ideas to solve this, shall we? I’d like to think a good place to start would be making education (and thereby knowledge) more accessible in this country our number 1 priority, but that is probably too ambitious.

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