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6 Important Things Nobody Tells You About Grad School

Summer! The courses are complete, the exams are over, and the students emerge from educational cocoons to blink in the harsh light of the real world. Many dive straight back under the downy duvet of postgraduate education, and every single one of them is reading this, because screwing around on the Internet is what postgraduates do instead of ever leaving the building.

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Haha, I'm sitting quietly at my desk reading NON-work-related material! In your face, The Man!"

The Internet is full of postgraduate "advice" from bitter ex-students warning people to stay out of graduate school, because they still haven't learned that whining and spending all their time online was their problem in the first place. Some advice about advice, or advice-squared: If someone tells you what they wish they would have done, listen. If they only tell you things they wouldn't have done, ignore them, because they've confused regret with wisdom. When someone fantasizes about having achieved less in life instead of figuring out how to make things better, that's more of a review of the life than the problem. Even when they're right about the problem, they're the wrong person to help you solve it.

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
"NO ONE SHOULD EVER BOWL, FOR I HAD FLOWING LOCKS BEFORE STICKING MY HEAD IN THE BALL RETURN!"

I love my two and a half postgraduate degrees in physics because, like all loving relationships, they're still part of me, and it's the one I didn't finish that taught me the most. Mathematically speaking, I have (2+i) postgrads: the last part made things complex and didn't end up real, but it added to the magnitude of what I learned. It's also what sent me off at an unreal angle into another career.

Luke McKinney
For example, my work on this system is why I'm not scared to write articles dissing Superman.

Now I'm paid to learn about science and apply that knowledge to light sabers, and I have enough qualifications to be called "Master-Master," but not enough money to actually make anyone do so. If you're considering or already in postgrad work ...

#6. Look for a Job

I don't care if you have a position researching the effects of your genitals on a willing group of test subjects. Look for a job.

Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty
Actually, that would be multiple positions.

I'm not telling you to get a job instead of studying. Society only exists because brains can learn, but academia is the only part of society that acts like it. Politics, business, and warfare all just play with the toys learning gave them, because arguing, greed, and violence are the childish parts of the species. Learning is how humanity grows up.

Extended education is an excellent way to pursue a passion for knowledge. Unfortunately, some students use it as a bunker to hide from the current employment climate.

Patrick Ryan/Lifesize/Getty Images
It's like a zombie apocalypse, except this time the victims are the hordes of bodies
desperately chasing the few opportunities to feed themselves.

You don't search for jobs to escape from postgraduate school. You search for jobs so that you don't feel like you have to. I've known dozens of students who felt trapped by their programs, but had less knowledge of the outside world than a post-nuclear vault dweller. And you'll eventually hate a prison cell even when it has an unlimited Internet connection. Knowing about the jobs you could take reminds you that learning for a living is a choice you made, and why you made it.

#5. Remember That Research Is the Point of Everything

Academia is where the human race remembers what brains are actually for. Learning is the only reason we're in charge of the planet instead of hiding from tigers, but it's been corralled in universities and made to beg for funding, despite being responsible for all wealth in the first place.

Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
"Ha, I just remembered that I get paid more than the people who invented this globe-spanning technology!"

The human brain is designed to learn, always and forever. That's why baseball statistics is a hobby instead of an emergency anesthetic. The whole point of humanity's extended childhood is to learn and improve its abilities. With academia, that becomes nanotechnology, the Mars missions, and cures for disease. Without education, it's people who can recite the element matrices of all 649 Pokemon, as if being a human tape recorder was a worthwhile thing to do with a life.

Wikimedia commons
They worked out how to record animals 40,000 years ago, and theirs would gore the shit out of Bulbasaur.

It's why so many people overanalyze TV shows, us included. Deep down we know we need to learn and think. But thanks to catastrophic flaws in modern society, every day more people are taught about new brands of toothpaste than about scientific discoveries.

Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty Images
"In fact, this ad contains five entirely made-up scientific-sounding words, to actively make you dumber!"

#4. Care About the Subject

If you're doing a research degree in something you don't care about, what the hell are you doing. Notice how the sheer gravity of that question has compressed the question mark into a period because there is no possible answer. Entering a postgraduate degree means declaring that you will become the world authority on something. Only a tiny bit of a specific section of a sub-discipline of something, but you will know that bit better than everyone else who has ever lived. Because nobody knew it until you did. You're pledging to permanently expand the sphere of human knowledge by choosing a direction, learning right up to the bounds of understanding, then head-butting them further out with what's in your skull.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/GettyImages

"OOOW GOD HEADBUTTING THE MICROSCOPE WAS A BAD IDEA."

This is not something you can clock into like a day job. If you're prepared to work 20-hour days on something you hate, great! Go get paid for doing that! Universities will let you sign up for a subject without passion because that's how they get highly skilled technical laborers for sub-mininum wage. Ph.D. students work longer hours than submarine nuclear reactors, and under greater pressure. You are dedicating at least half a decade of the most capable part of your life to becoming the master of something. Act like it.

Ph.D.s are where education reveals its true form: not teaching people what we already know, but learning how to learn what we don't. Research is taking on the previously incomprehensible machinery of the universe with 1.4 kilograms of yougoo. It's a lot of work. It's how we build the future. It's why the title of science fiction's most brilliant person is "Doctor." Not "CEO," or "President," or "Major," but "Doctor," because he knows to find and solve new problems by being intelligent at them.

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