Pros and cons of the academic world

This is a topic that deserves more than one post, and given that I still consider myself a beginner in the “academic world” having only completed one year of grad school, I am sure I will have much more to say in the future. So I’m sure I’ll revisit this list one day with a more mature perspective, but I thought it would be interesting if I shared my observations, at this point, on the pros and cons of the academic world. (Another caveat: as I’ve shared before, I am a political science student. This could and probably does vary among fields.) With that being said, here is what sticks out to me.

Pros:

  • Smart people. You are surrounded by them! It is inspiring. You have professors and mentors and even people who share no interests with you but whose intelligence and passion for their subject is so evident that it motivates you with your own work.
  • Learning. This should go without saying, but many people, particularly those who actually aren’t in the academic community, forget about its most straightforward goal, which is learning. It’s not just about writing the current paper or finishing a project or getting through the semester, it’s about taking in each learning opportunity like a sponge and continuously building on your own knowledge and expertise.
  • Learning for money. Yes it’s about learning, but if it is your job, it is also about money. And my experience, at least, is that I am receiving financial support to receive an education that I will later use to continue enjoying all the “pros” on this list. Isn’t that cool? (Note: I’m not saying this to brag. However, I actually think too many people complain about the low salary of graduate students. While it is nothing to write home about, you are literally being paid to receive an education while many others with similar credentials are taking out loans to attend Masters programs or law school. So it seems like a good hand of cards to be dealt.)
  • Intellectual stimulation. Some might argue that this is the same thing as learning, but I actually don’t think that is true. There are aspects of research that require creativity, problem solving, analytical thinking, brainstorming, and sometimes it can generally feel like a giant puzzle. Even in the moments when not a lot of material learning is being done, other kinds of stimulation are likely going on.
  • Some level of autonomy. While most people in the academic world work within a college or university, there is still a degree of freedom (although it varies depending on one’s field, institution, level of seniority, etc.) when it comes to one’s teaching and research endeavors. That sounds a lot more appealing, to me at least, than being told explicitly what to do by a superior.

Cons:

  • Smart people… You are surrounded by them. Yes, this is beneficial, but it can also be a negative thing. Smart people can be great, or not so great. They can be kind and helpful, or rude and condescending. You don’t know which it’ll be, you just know that they are intelligent (at least enough to ~make it to where they are in life~).
  • Self doubt. It’s not a coincidence that most grad students and professors are familiar with the term “impostor syndrome.” This is sort of a result of the social environment of academia, but it is also just something that naturally happens when you are inundated with tons of high level material and attempting to stay above water with it all.
  • Work-life balance. I’m struggling to decide whether this is a pro or a con when it comes to academia, but at this moment I am going to place it on the “cons” list. Here comes a mini rant if you are interested in why:
    This entire blog is about my endeavor to find a balance between work and life that feels effortless. I recognize that it will never feel completely effortless, but I do strive to live my life in a way where work and “play” complement, rather than compete with, each other. There are definitely some positive aspects of the work-life balance of an academic as compared with some other professional routes. One’s time is somewhat flexible, and we can often choose, aside from a few pre-scheduled commitments, when we want to do our work. This doesn’t decrease the workload, but it allows scholars to exercise discretion in how they’d like to complete the work. On the other hand, there is a certain culture of overworking ourselves and signing up for various projects and constantly engaging in self-improvement exercises (like learning more and better methods, writing more and better papers, networking, etc.) and just generally always being “on,” that it can feel wrong or even guilt-invoking to take some time off. That’s why, at this moment, even though it is the middle of summer and I have the most freedom with my time that I have had in actual years, I’m currently seeing the work-life balance element as a “con.” However, I will say that every single day I work to foster a mindset that resists that norm, and that I hope to be vocal in opposition to the idea that we need to overwork ourselves to an unhealthy extent in order to be successful academics.
  • On the flip side of having a certain level of autonomy, it can also be problematic to work within a field so reliant on “the institution” as academia is. You’ve heard of “the ivory tower.” And if you know anything about working in higher education, you are also likely aware that it has many bureaucratic elements to it. You can sometimes feel like just one cog in a larger machine, one that you have little to no control over. The extent to which this is a problem basically depends on your outlook, although it does impact some practical realities of life as well (such as when one experiences problems with their pay, health insurance, or some other aspect of life that there is a lot less bargaining power over than there might be working for a private firm of some sort).
  • The job market. I researched the benefits and downsides of attaining a PhD extensively before I seriously considered it. The only reason I was comfortable entering this process was because I knew from the start that I was very open minded about the kind of job I would pursue in the future; if I thought I would only be willing to use a PhD to become a professor one day, I would certainly have tried to dream another dream. According to Google, the prospects aren’t getting better soon. 
  • It’s never ending. Now if you enjoy the lifestyle of an academic, then this is not really a problem. But what I mean by this is that, as one of the advisors at my institution shared in one of the first meetings we had as new students, your first day of graduate school is your first day on the job. Sure, you are still in the formal schooling portion of your journey, but when you receive your degree and go on the job market, there is no magic switch that will be flipped and turn you into a full-fledged professor. I am very keen on the power of manifestation so I try to act like I already am where I want to be in all aspects of my life, so this is actually something I love about the process. But if you feel overwhelmed as a graduate student, you can see the road ahead, and you are just perpetually waiting for that step in the process that you think will bring you fulfillment… Well, then the outlook seems bleak, my friend. It is unrealistic to think that you will enjoy the process later if you do not enjoy it now.

Those are my observations so far, and please don’t take this list as an indication that there are more “cons” than “pros.” If I had to sum up all I’ve learned about this journey so far in one sentence, I would be sure to make the point that almost ever positive aspect has a negative side to it, and vice-versa. This could be discouraging, or it could be a great thing depending on one’s ability to selectively focus on the “good.”

Do you consider yourself to be a part of the “academic world”? Have you shared some of these experiences, or are there other elements I missed? Comment below!

-AK

7 things I can’t live without

If we are talking about what I couldn’t survive without, the first things that come to mind are obviously food, water, shelter, my friends and family, etc. However, these are a given. Right now I want to focus on the less obvious things that “give me life.” Not all of these are to be taken literally, of course. 🙂

  1.  Coffee – I don’t think this needs an explanation, although to me coffee is a bit more than (just) an addiction. Working as a barista was my first step toward adulthood. I have bonded with both of my parents over our mutual love of this sweet nectar of the gods. There is nothing more comforting or that “centers” me more than a good cup of coffee and some quiet time. Whether I am enjoying a cup of coffee to start the day, as an accompaniment to lovely conversation with friends, or as a ritual to get focused before I start some school work, it is a constant in my life and makes it much less dull.
  2.  Music – I think I have literally been quoted as telling my mom that if everything else goes wrong, even if I lost everything else in my life, I could always find a way to be content as long as I had music. Music is so important to me as a means of self expression. But, also, listening to others’ music is such a unique part of the human experience. I swear that I can get a natural high by hearing a song that I really like. Not just a song that’s catchy and makes me want to sing along, but the kind that speaks to my soul. Do you know what I mean?
  3.  Water – haha, I said I wasn’t going to include water, right? I’m not talking about hydration this time, though. I have always felt an extreme need to live near water, whether it be a river or a lake or the beach. Even as a child, when I first saw the map of the U.S., I thought, “what would be the point of life if I lived somewhere like South Dakota, or Kansas… the ocean is so far away!” No offense to anybody who lives in these places and enjoys it, but the ability to be near a large body of water has always had a strangely soothing effect on my soul and I honestly think life would feel a lot emptier without it.
  4.  Intellectual stimulation – I thought about including “books” or something about my studies, but what those things fulfill is really my need for intellectual stimulation. I constantly need to be solving a problem or puzzle or analyzing something, even if I’m literally just analyzing the best way to arrange my closet. (Can you tell I’m in the process of moving?) If I’m not doing some kind of physical task, my mind is always “on”– planning, pondering, wondering, etc…
  5. A sense of purpose/ meaning – I think this speaks for itself, and is something that life is a lot less fulfilling without for everyone. But knowing that I need a sense of purpose doesn’t mean that I’ve 100% found what I think my “purpose” is already;  just knowing that it is something I am constantly striving toward understanding makes life feel more worthwhile.
  6. Laptop/ phone/ internet – while I’m a little sad to admit this makes it on to the list, there is just so much content I consume and so many tasks I perform that technology facilitates or makes much easier. The reason it makes me sad is because I think it’s often the case that these things play too large of a role in our lives, becoming habits or even safety blankets that prevent us from branching out and experiencing more in life. On a day-to-day basis, though, it would really be hard to live without these.
  7. Connection – I used to think I was so introverted that I didn’t really need to spend much time around people. It’s true, I can spend a lot of time alone and feel completely fine. But it has recently become clear to me how much more fulfilled I feel when I surround myself with people who bring me joy and “fill in the blanks” with alone time, even though (as an ?introvert?) it does drain me of energy sometimes. I underestimated how important friends and family were to my happiness, and after some lonely moments I decided to make changes to experience connection with other humans and enjoy their presence rather than defaulting to being alone.

Don’t forget to follow along with me, I’m blogging every day this month 🙂 what are some things you can’t live without?

-AK

Challenging myself…

Hi everyone! Happy 5th of July. I hope everybody’s 4th of July celebrations included Lays potato chips (see my Twitter poll for a sad depiction of the reality of today’s potato chips market).

So I’m a deadline-driven kind of person, and I don’t have any deadlines related to my blog. Hence, not many recent posts. I used to see my friend Mary (check out her blog) do blogging challenges occasionally, and it seemed like a good way to get into the habit of writing more often. For me, the problem is that inspiration and creativity usually strike all at once and then wither away. So, while I feel inspired, I decided to outline the topics I hope to address this month, in order to hold myself accountable!

Here is my list 🙂

July 6: My fitness routine
July 7: 7 things I can’t live without
July 8: My weekly “refresh” routine
July 9: Grocery haul + meal prep overview
July 10: 23 things I’ve learned in 23 years
July 11: People who inspire me
July 12: Veganism from an economic perspective
July 13: Top 5 things I learned in college
July 14: July playlist
July 15: 15 random facts about me
July 16: Staples for a vegan diet – foods I always have in my kitchen
July 17: How I stay organized
July 18: Biggest pet peeves
July 19: Being yourself (in the face of criticism)
July 20: My favorite YouTube channels
July 21: Podcasts I’ve enjoyed (as someone who doesn’t enjoy podcasts)
July 22: Weekend snapshot: family beach trip
July 23: My experience with music
July 24: What I’m studying & my research interests
July 25: Pros and cons of the “academic world”
July 26: My tips for productivity
July 27: My biggest weaknesses
July 28: Taste test – reviewing a restaurant or coffee shop
July 29: My thoughts on pursuing a (political science) PhD
July 30: July favorites
July 31: Round-up of the funniest things I’ve seen on the internet this month
August 1: General + August goals
August 2: How to apply to grad school
August 3: Useful apps for students
August 4: Places to study in Washington D.C.
August 5: Advice for first-year grad students

And that’s it! (For now.) I hope you come back to read some of these posts, whether it’s because you just want to see me roast myself about my biggest weaknesses, or because you find some of these topics interesting and informative!

-AK