I've got a few links to share with you today, all of which are loosely related to the basic theme of Your Brain on Academia. As you know, the other postacademic bloggers and I have written at length about the effect grad school and academia has on your mind - the guilt, the self-doubt and self-blame, the boredom and the isolation and the frustration and the possible ill-effects all of it can have on the mental health of someone trying to work in academia.
Despite all of the discussion we've had, though, I always think there's room for a little bit more. And I ran across a couple of things this week that got me thinking - yet again - about the mindset of an academic. And more specifically, about how the academic guilt that grad students feel and make jokes about is actually not funny at all.
In reality, I believe that this guilt is seriously problematic. Not only is it terrible for your self-esteem, but it also clouds your reality when you look around at the structure of academia and the state of the job market.
Let's talk about this.
First, we have this post, which is by another postacademic and addresses academic guilt. The author writes:
...as graduate students, we are discouraged from discussing our 'personal lives.' We are supposed to be completely dedicated to our work. I can't count the number of times I talked about or heard others talk about all the work we have to do, how we haven't left the house in days, how we fell asleep in our office because we had to hand in that paper in the morning. Even though we talk about these things and we are aware that they are not necessarily positive things, we try to top each other in our stories of academic agony. We do it because we believe, deep down inside, that a committed graduate student does not have a life.This description definitely mirrors my experiences in my graduate program. Discussions between grad students would often devolve into some kind of weird Competition of Misery, where we'd all talk about "how late we had stayed in the lab last night" or about "how long it'd been since we watched a movie" or visited our families or went out to dinner. We wore the overwork (whether it was real or not) as a badge of honor, with the people who worked hardest and longest being characterized as the models we should all be looking up to. And faculty would chime in when needed, assuring us that "if we just worked hard enough" we'd get a great job in the end.
But how hard was "hard enough?" No one ever seemed to know. So we just worked constantly. Or tried to, anyway. And if we didn't work on any given day or evening or hour in the lab, we'd talk about what "slackers" we were. How "unmotivated" we were. How we "really needed to step it up next week." Anything short of working every single day and evening was unacceptable.
The author of the linked post continues by pointing out that this mindset is not a good one:
Graduate student guilt, as I like to call it, is a dangerous thing. This is what it sounds like: when we take time to watch a movie, we complain that we wasted our evening. When we have some free time we think first about what we should do for work when our body and mind probably needs a break. When we can't write down 10 pages for the day, we curse our inability to produce. Grad student guilt can harm us because it can prevent us from seeing all the work we really are doing and [instead] focus on our shortcomings.Pay careful attention to that last sentence; we'll come back around to it.