Grad School, 10 Years On

August 19th, 2021 by Potato

Coincidentally, I had this post on grad school and mental health come up across my stream today. (It’s a coincidence because I got out 10 years ago today though the server time on that old post indicates I didn’t post until after midnight)

Grad school is about as harmful to a person’s mental health as the death of a spouse was one tweet summary. Collectively, it causes as much disability adjusted life years lost as HIV/AIDS and other STDs per the post, which yeah, tracks about right.

I had a lot of good times in grad school, faced some interesting challenges, made some friends, and learned a lot. It was far from all bad. But I also wasted years of my life, with a huge opportunity cost.

My mental health has been terrible for the last year and a half or so. But this last decade I think overall it’s been fair to good (highs and lows, of course). Part of that is that fatherhood suits me. Yet even having to face the pressures of the real world and all the monkey feces it has thrown at me, I’ve been less anxious and less depressed than in grad school. To say it plainly: I, too, suffered with bouts of anxiety and depression on that journey. Of course, I can’t place the full blame on grad school: part of that was pre-existing. It may be generalizable/self-selecting, as I suppose you don’t go get a PhD unless you’re already a little cracked in the head in the first place.

It’s also a little sad to see that 10 years on and Science-with-a-capital-S still hasn’t figured this shit out. The profession is structurally hostile to people looking to reproduce, is more than a little exploitative and pyramid-schemy, and yet absolutely vital to human progress. We’ve been talking for years about how PhD students are often poorly prepared for “alternative” careers (though academia and research are the minority outcomes, by a lot). We under-value research talent (severely in many cases), and even then can’t manage to pull out sustainable and secure funding programs. On the bright side, I am seeing more positions for people as working scientists (e.g. Research Associates) that aren’t some under-paid holding-pattern position on the mythical ladder to tenure.

I wasn’t planning on posting anything to mark the day, but when I saw that tweet I had to put something up, so this rambling mess is all the retrospective you get today.

— Doctor Potato

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