Quarter-life Crisis

Now is really not a good time for me. I’m bogged down in the quagmire that is graduate school and this panic that I’m experiencing when trying to make life decisions is detrimental to my already limited focus. I’m barely into the second year of a Masters program and I am forced, once again, to engage in some serious soul searching to try to answer the illusive “what do I want to do when I grow up?” (Solution? Don’t grow up. I wish.) My increased awareness of the need to start thinking about what comes after this program has been prompted by some recent interactions with people (read: grown-ups) from outside my comfy academic bubble. They ask me what I’m doing with my time and I get a slightly condescending response when I tell people exactly what my Masters will be in. “Oh? And what can you do with that degree?” Tempting though it may be, I try to avoid sticking fingers in my ears, sticking out my tongue and saying “I know you are, but what am I?!” I tell these ‘concerned individuals’ that I have many options. For example, I can go into a PhD program and be a professor and professional academic. I can work in the defence industry, for a think tank, or in research and policy consultation. I can also work for the government. There is a collective sigh of relief that I might actually have a future. But then the pressure increases- which will I choose? Answer: I have no idea so please stop asking.

To be perfectly honest, this is not a great time for new graduates. The job market is limited and the real grown-ups (read: old people) just won’t retire. Universities lost money in 2008 right along with everyone else and funding for most graduate schools is down. So I can either search for an entry-level job where I may be stuck for many, many years, start a PhD program and live in what one professor here calls “genteel” poverty as a student foranother five or six years (won’t my parents be impressed when I move home every summer until I’m 30?), or I can sit bored at a desk for the first fifteen years of my career working for the government. With all these ‘amazing’ options it’s no surprise I’m unsure and severely stressed over what the future holds for me after graduation.

It’s not that I’m not thinking about it. I’m actually trying to cover all my bases. I’m applying for a make-or-break scholarship, trying to write A+ PhD applications, and searching for jobs in every corner of the country. I’m TAing and on a sports team and trying to have something vaguely resembling a social life. Even my procrastination focuses on the future: I’m dreaming of teaching big classes and making a difference in someone’s academic life, but I’m also drooling over the possibilities that money brings like houses and dogs and ‘discretionary spending’. Oh, and I’m trying to write a thesis that will allow me to move onto whatever comes next.

So quarter-life crisis, let’s put this off for a while, shall we? And grown-ups, now you’ll understand why I may suddenly plug my ears and yell “I can’t hear you!” or “I’m rubber and you’re glue” when you start asking me about school and life. I apologize in advance.

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3 thoughts on “Quarter-life Crisis

  1. Seahorne says:

    30 and working on a PhD? Take a look at the average age of most Phd students. There ain’t nothing wrong with that.

    I think nearly every student near the end of their degree suffers some level of anxiety (unless they are in a professional program)…. “AKA what does a BA in History qualify me for besides day shifts at Starbucks?”

    I met a PhD candidate from Psychology last month. He believes that unless you have had at least three Grad School induced emotional break downs, you are doing it wrong.

    PS – There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have a career AND pursue a PhD. It’ll just take longer, but you’ll have an income. A nice compromise, me thinks!

  2. thepeake says:

    Take a walk around campus during lunch and you’ll see that everyone else is just as much a lost soul as you think you are. but at least you’re not an undergrad filled with the false hope that once you finish a bachelors program you’ll soon be working for the UN. quick tip for realizing that you’re not as lost as you think: take out your degrees (even high school), look at them, and you’ll see that you’ve survived near catastrophe to get them which is a skill academics never put on their resume (i.e. Professional survival).
    “Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. ” Carl Von Clausewitz, On War chapter 7

  3. A says:

    Uncertainty is frightening. Sure, it would have been easier to go to law school, or med school. Hell, maybe studying engineering would have been an easier choice than grad school. All three streams often provide students with “real” careers after school (most of the time).

    But life isn’t easy. In fact, life is hard and its frustrating and sometimes you feel like you haven’t got a clue where you’re headed and that’s fine. That’s perfectly normal.

    Someone once told me that grad students are like the toys from misfit island (lol). It’s important to remember that you’re on an island with numerous “misfit” grad students who feel just as lost as you are.

    And from one misfit to the other, I am confident that you’ll figure it out. Never stop working towards achieving your goals. Keep dreaming of “teaching big classes and making a difference in someone’s academic life.” Because nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

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