by SaraB, PhD Student.com: http://www.phdstudent.com/rene-p/a-pep-talk-to-the-overworked-grad-student
Feel like your advisor is working you into the ground?
have come to the conclusion that graduate programs have complete
disregard for their students’ personal lives and that they intentionally
and ruthlessly work their students like slaves.
I won’t attempt to deny
these accusations, but I do believe in seeing the bright side to any
unfortunate situation. Below I’ve outlined a little pep talk to
encourage you on your quest for that coveted postgraduate degree.
Hang in there. It will get better
You may feel
like there is no end in sight, but it will get better. When you finish
your major coursework, your workload will subside to accommodate more
research and/or teaching opportunities. Also, when that happens, you
will have a much better handle on department processes, and things that
were difficult before will run much more smoothly. With less coursework,
you will also have more time to fully commit yourself to the projects
that you are currently working on.
Nothing worth having comes easily
cliché of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is highly applicable in
graduate school. Holding a graduate degree puts you in the top 7% of the
United States population (NCES, 2014). For comparison, an estimated 34% of the US population has a bachelor’s degree or higher (NCES, 2014).
A pessimist might say, “The reason so few people earn postgraduate
degrees is because it’s not worth it.” It actually is worth it (on
average). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014),
people with a master’s degree enjoy about $11,492 more per year than
their bachelor counterparts. People with PhDs make about $26,780 more
per year than people with bachelor’s degrees.
Difficult experiences are learning experiences
Some of the best learning opportunities are born out of aversive
circumstances. For example, it only takes a rat one encounter with a
noxious drink to know never to touch that stuff again (e.g., Garcia
& Koelling, 1966). Difficult experiences in graduate school are the
same. With each step, you will learn to be more efficient, productive,
and creative with your work. By the end of your time in grad school, you
will be able to mentor the new folks who need help navigating the
program. Even if your future job has very little to do with academia,
you will still carry forward into your new profession the life
experiences that you’ve gain from graduate school.
The best students have the most pressure put on them
As my husband says regarding coaching: only the best athletes get
yelled at by the coach. The same goes for graduate students. Graduate
advisors are strategic thinkers, and they are not going to waste their
time hounding advisees that aren’t going to produce anything. Instead,
they hound their best performing students, and give them the maximum
workload possible. Why? Because the best way to test a student’s
aptitude is to see how much they can handle. The more you perform, the
higher your advisor will set the bar. They get the work done, and you
get the benefits (or consequences) of being the golden kid.
This may be one of the last times in your life for undeterred exploration and learning
After all the trouble of getting my PhD, I’m going to sheepishly admit
that I miss grad school. I miss the opportunity to sit down with a stack
of research articles and lose myself for an unknown amount of time. I
miss the chance to follow research ideas down the many rabbit trails and
then produce data from those ideas. I miss the opportunity to explore
new topics in my coursework and learn from experts (i.e., my professors)
in my field. When you graduate and go off to the workplace, suddenly
you are the expert, and everyone is looking to you for answers. I know
with time, I will get used to this new role, but I do miss the chance to
uninhibitedly learn and grow in my field.
For all you vitamin D deficient lab rats, my take-home message is
this: be grateful for the opportunities that you have as a graduate
student, know that this hard work is just for a little while, and
realize that you’ll have many rewards on the other side of the
Image used with permission by PDPArchitects via iStockphoto.