6 Important Things Nobody Tells You About Grad School

#3. Take Command

You are a grown-up, and the very first part of being a grown-up is that nobody will tell you. They shouldn't have to, you're a grown-up.

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The Internet can severely damage this process.

If you act like an obedient schoolchild, scrabbling every hour to complete every assignment you're given to try to get the best marks, most professors will totally let you. Turning grad students into Morlocks is how you get allegedly smart people to volunteer for slave labor.

This is an imago of adulthood: mature enough to resolve fiendishly difficult research problems, but doing it only because grown-ups told you to. Accepting that academic research means years of inhuman hours at low pay is a parody of the idea of intelligence. The whole point of defending a thesis is learning how to argue with more experienced people about how right you are. You need to start that early. Pick a good project, only take tasks that will help your work or situation, and stand your ground about taking the time to have a life outside the lab. I've seen labs where the professor arrives at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning just to check that everyone is there, then leaves to have his own day, while ringing at random to make sure nobody learned from him. Fast food joints don't pull nonsense like that. And pay almost as much.

But that's because postgrads are all about learning. Lesson 1: You will have to put up with precisely as much shit as you're prepared to. (This lesson applies to every subject, and the real world, too.)

#2. Teach and Tutor

Some students resent the requirement to teach tutorials as part of their funding package, because that's not a funding package, that's another way for the university to get cheap workers. But just like the rest of your student life, it's actually training. You're learning how to explain things to people who don't understand it. The only skill more vital for scientists is the ability to look cool in a lab coat.

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"I don't even have a degree. I just walked in one day. That's why I'm looking at a packet of raspberries."

We're overturning the stereotype of scientists as shy communication misfires, but it became a stereotype for a reason. It's still true of some students. And they still need to learn how to deal with people. It doesn't matter if you're studying artificial intelligence in drone bodies: Until you get those researchobots finished, people who can communicate with others will still do better in every field. And when you do get them finished, charismatic public speakers will become even more important, standing with one foot on a burning drone to urge the human resistance to seize the time machine.

Research is all about communicating results to other people. More importantly, funding is about communicating results to people who don't even care about them, or you, and already have 20 labs who've made great cases for 10 labs' worth of money. Teaching is also a great way to boost your student income immediately. Teaching assigned classes only scrapes a few dollars, but pre-exam grinds are a seasonal harvest of pure cash.

#1. Strongly Consider Your Job

You know how you looked for a job at the start? Never stop doing that. Your CV should be updated more often than your haircut. It's not just a parachute, it's a focus for your future. It reminds you that you're actively choosing to learn instead of making money, so you'd better learn as hard as you can. You're in an educational bonus level, a mind-expanding environment unparalleled in all of history. There has never been a better time to fill your mind, or more exciting projects to apply it to.

You'll have an urge to stop checking the job situation because the real world is scary. But just hiding gives the real world time to go find a baseball bat. If you're not planning on coming out of your Ph.D. with a newly invented Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, you'd have been better off coming out swinging while it was still unarmed. Looking for work may be a soul-corroding exercise in self-abasement, but hiding from it only gives the problem time to drink water and store up barrels of that acidic piss called "lack of experience." Going postgraduate because your degree can't find you a job is like diving because you can't fix your submarine.


"Yes, Mom, my job plan is still 'find Atlantis.' How did you even get this number?"

If you spend four years doing the bare minimum, becoming the master of finding free coffee and doughnuts in meetings, then those are exactly what you'll bring to the working world. Coffee and doughnuts. To the people who got a job back when you went postgraduate.

Academia can be the greatest place in existence. You've swapped the real world for a chance to learn what you love, always, using your brain instead of beating it to death against bar codes and spreadsheets and sales reports and all the other jobs that only exist because robots aren't quite good or cheap enough yet. But if you don't take that learning seriously, you've swapped the world for nothing.

The better option is to keep learning. A proper degree will help you get a job, but a Ph.D. is how you say "No thanks, I love this stuff." There is no feeling like filling your mind with intelligence you love. Most people don't get to do that. Most people have to train their brain to endure the hours until they get to think about things they like, but they're so tired that those things become Breaking Bad and unconsciousness. Research lets you turn your soul into a fascination engine, consuming the output of human intelligence, living and breathing the very pinnacle of human progress. Then reaching out to push it a little bit further.

Luke also looks at Even More Sexist Commenters, tumbles, and responds to every single tweet.

For more college advice, check out 7 Tips for Not Screwing Up College, Should You Go to College? and The 7 Dumbest Things Students Do When Cramming for Exams.

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