Last Friday, I went back to the old campus to cover a history graduate student conference for work. In addition to being a good time of catching up with my old adviser and bosses, and getting a day out of the office, it was an illuminating experience in two respects. First, no more than five minutes into the first paper, I realized, I am still capable of graduate school work. This was gratifying in that the general feeling that I’ve been getting dumber since I left school six years ago is, I now know, totally unfounded. I was impressed with maybe a quarter of the presentations I heard that day. The middle fifty percent were about what I expected from grad students (that is to say, good but not thought challenging), and the bottom quarter were underwhelming to say the least.
The second lesson, equally surprising, is that I have no desire to go back. Especially not as a full time student. Perhaps it was the narrow scope of the topics covered. Perhaps the insular air of academia is now toxic to my lungs. Perhaps it was the fact that many of the students are younger than me now. Perhaps it was the realization that the cohort that I started graduate school with eight years ago is just now finishing their PhDs and going on the job market for the first time at the age of 30 (and will make barely as much as I do, but with six additional years of student loans to pay off). Whatever the reason, the temptation to throw away the past six years and go back to school holds little sway for me anymore. And I know if I went back, I could blow away 2/3 of my colleagues, having been in the real world outside of the “second adolescence” bubble of grad school and experienced real responsibilities and deadlines. I feel I could finish the PhD at twice the usual speed.
But I like making money. I like choosing my own reading list instead of what the professor has assigned. I like having real responsibilities. I don’t want or need the grad school cocoon.
Most of the time.