Dear Mother… Dear Father… Dear No-Gender-Specific Parent…

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the reality of higher education and jobs, and I’ve gave you 5 very compelling reasons not to go to graduate school.  I’m more than happy to equip you with these tid-bits of information.

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However, you might be a person who has reached the graduate school level.  You probably did everything right and you don’t need my help.  Cool.  But, you need to know how to properly choose your adviser.  This is critical.  This is the person you are going to work closely with for the next 3-4 years of your life.  This person will shape how you think and what kind of researcher you will be.  They are your *insert field of study here* mother/father/parent.

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 You need to do proper investigation:

1)  Determine a professor’s research interests.

If you don’t care even a little about what someone is doing research in, you’ll hate your time and you will lack motivation and you will suffer.  Three years doesn’t seem like a long time, but it drags on and on.

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Remember in High School when you would watch the clock during the last hour of the day… yeah, the last three years will be like that.

One way to get a really good idea of what a professor does: read his/her/their papers.  You may not be able to understand everything, but if you think “oh man, this is cool!” or “that is really interesting, I want to know more” or even “this goes over my head, I love the fact this person is a genius”… then you will want to take the next step with this professor.

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2)  Sit in on your POI.

First, it’s best if you’ve had a class with your POI or if you’ve attended a research presentation (which you should begin attending after your first semester) they’ve given.  Then, you know how this person teaches or how this person presents.  This helps in that you’ll know how they’ll advise/guide you.  You can determine whether their style works for you that way.

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3) Meet with the professor of interest (POI).

However, if you haven’t been so lucky… a meeting with your POI will have to do.  Tell them you are interested in research with them.  Ask them questions like: what basic background material would I need? or, what classes should I take? or, are there papers/books not given in class that I can read to do what you do? are you open to answering questions I may have?  how often will you expect me to meet with you?  what are other responsibilities you expect? etc.

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Problems with this method: people always behave better before you get to know them.  It’s later down the line that you will learn how wrong this person is for you.  The next item addresses how to avoid this.

3) Talk to students who are studying under or who have studied under your POI.

Students who have already graduated will most likely be more honest about their experience.   Students currently working with the POI may not be completely honest in fear; plus, it’s not very professional to spread gossip.  Despite this, though, you can tell by the answer (or lack thereof) what kind of professor he/she/they are.  A professor worthy of praise will be praised.  A professor who is hard in a disrespectful way will either have silent students or students who will complain behind closed doors.

4) REGs are an excellent way to judge a POI.

Most graduate programs will provide funding for summer research projects with professors.  Working with your POI for a summer is a great way to determine whether you will continue to work well together.

Note: Everyone has their annoying quirks.  You need to determine whether you can look beyond the POI’s treatment of you in order to obtain your degree.  Will this professor have you present at conferences and thus provide you networking relationships?  Will this professor help you submit several papers?  Will this professor be the one to help you pass your defense?  These are questions you can determine by asking the POI-students.  The compromise is determined by you.

Recommendation:  None of these things are worth giving up your dignity and self-respect.  Even if you don’t have any of the benefits, by walking away, you’ll at least have your self-worth.  I speak from my failure to do so..

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Share in the comments the way you chose your adviser!

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It’s Not What You Think

Note:  Everything I say is based on my own college/graduate school experience.  To help others from making my mistakes.

Youth just don’t know.  They are listening to adults.  Adults who still think a college education is the end-all-be-all.  It’s not true anymore.

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For first generation students, you’ll go to college thinking: this is it.  After college I can be a self-sufficient adult, and I can start my own family.  I’ll have a career by time I am 23, so I’ll have children by time I’m 25.  It’s later than my own parents, but it’s okay because I’ll still be 45 when my own child goes to college. blah. blah. blah.  Graduating college is the biggest accomplishment first generation students will EVER think to strive toward.  At least.. that is how it was for me.

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I didn’t know anything.  My mom didn’t know anything.  My grandparents, my aunts and uncles, all the people I looked up to in my family didn’t know anything.  Teachers and guidance counselors never talk about anything except getting into college.  No one ever talks about what happens after the acceptance.. what happens in college.. what happens when you graduate.. students are so uninformed, it’s not even funny.  The best thing you can ever be is informed..

Many, many, many students are going to college now.  So many.  Just think about it.  Wikipedia (a source you aren’t allowed to use in ANYTHING, but it’s extremely useful) says there were 21 MILLION students in college in the US as of 2012.. There are probably at least 1 million more.. and that is only in the US.  If all these people are getting degrees, what is the point?

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That IS the point, isn’t it?  In order to get into a good college, it’s stressed for students to have good GPAs and to participate in clubs and to join Honor Societies and to volunteer and to diversify and to blah blah blah.  I’m in awe of the youth who do all of this AND have to deal with bullsh** in their personal lives.  YOU are amazing individuals.

It doesn’t end when you get in though.  You’re told that if you want a good job you have to keep doing all those things.  Except, there are more distractions when you are away from home for the first time.. and so many students suffer because they’ve made the wrong decisions regarding these exploits.  It’s more difficult to keep that GPA and participate in those clubs or to volunteer.. but, you can’t get that job without ALL these things.

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In fact, you have to do more than what you’re told.  You need INTERNSHIPS and WORK EXPERIENCE.  A college education isn’t enough anymore.  So many companies are looking for people who have 3+ years of experience.  Even if they are willing to hire a new graduate, they are looking for qualities that come from experience.  That means, you need to find out what these skills are and earn them in your 4 years of college.

It’s a lot.  I know… but you are competing with 21 MILLION students.. and many of those students are adults going back to get their education after the 3+ years of experience.  I don’t know about you, but I NEVER get picked for dodge ball when I’m a player and I ALWAYS choose the person who knows what they are doing when I’m the captain.

When you don’t have these extra tidbits under your belt, you’ll have a hard time finding a job.  That’s when you’ll contemplate graduate school.  You’re thinking: I went to college like I was supposed to.. I did everything I was told.. and it still wasn’t enough.. I’m still working this shi**y retail job serving these shi**y people.. I can’t do this the rest of my life.. What can I do?

And you think graduate school is the place to be.

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But it’s not.

In fact, it’s worse than getting a Bachelor’s degree.  I list reasons you shouldn’t go in another post.  You need more.  All the extracurricular activities (volunteer work, honor societies, internships, good GPA) that made you look good before still stand.. but now you need to submit/publish papers, present at conferences, teach classes, participate in research groups.. In other words, gaining your professional experience while earning your degree.. all the while pretending you know what you are saying and doing..  all the while feeling as though you are an imposter..

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People without a higher education stress that higher education is the way to go because they see everyone around them getting raises and promotions.  It’s not true.  What you need to succeed is BOTH.  You need professional experience in your field of interest.  You need a degree to show those mother-effers that you are worthy.  You don’t need just one middle finger, you need both middle fingers straight up as a statement that you did more than everything right.  You went above and beyond.

Please share advice in the comments for the youth deciding upon undergraduate school or graduate school.

Five Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go To Graduate School…

As a recent Doctor of Philosophy, it’s my job to inform youth (high school seniors and undergraduate seniors) what higher education involves.  This is the first of a series of blogs I will post.  Five reasons you shouldn’t go to graduate school:

1) If you are doing it because you don’t know what you want to do.

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Graduate school is a full blown commitment.  You are dedicating your LIFE to what you study.  You are Michelangelo on your back for weeks painting that Sistine Chapel ceiling.  You need to LOVE what you do in order to withstand the lack of blood flow to your fingers.  If you don’t love what you do, you will stop caring about everything around you and you will have wasted 5-6 years of your life instead of finding that something you care about.

2) If you are going under the impression a graduate degree will get you a better/higher-paying job.

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I will post more about this in another blog.. but, this is the WRONG reason to get a higher education.  There is absolutely NO guarantee you’ll get a better job or a higher-paying job or any job for that matter.  You go to graduate school to learn.  Because you love to learn.  Because you love to help others learn.  WHY THE EFF ELSE WOULD YOU GO?!

3) If you don’t get funding.

BIGGEST MISTAKE is to go to graduate school without funding.  If 1) or 2) are true… and you don’t get funding.  You’re the biggest idiot ever (here’s looking at myself).. because if you don’t love what you do but you are thousands of loans in debt… you’ll feel trapped and will never be able to switch careers.  Or, if you can’t find a job to pay those loans back, you’ll be in debt forever.

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4) If you don’t know EXACTLY what to study.

You’ll have the greatest success in graduate school if you know exactly what kind of research you want to do.  You can take the correct classes and find the best adviser for your research.  If you go in blindly, you’ll end up taking the wrong classes and doing someone else’s research.  You’ll write your thesis on a topic you probably don’t care about, and that’ll be the experience that determines the jobs for which you’ll be eligible… trapping you in an area of research you’ll NEVER CARE ABOUT.

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5) If you’re going because all the cool kids are going.

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We’ve had it drilled into our heads: go to college.  you won’t get a job if you don’t go to college.  In a sense, this is true (I will write about this more later).  However, it’s also not so true because now we’re getting it drilled: go to graduate school, you’ll get a BETTER job if you go to graduate school.  Now, millions of kids are getting bachelors degrees and this devalues higher degrees.  In addition, half of those kids will try graduate school, making master’s degrees a dime a dozen and PhDs aren’t as rare as they used to be.  There is NOTHING wrong with a trade like electrician or mechanic.  Not everyone is meant to have a full blown college education.  Many people are better with their hands than with book learning.  Please don’t go because it’s what everyone else is doing.

What you should do:

Take time off from school.  Find something you want to do.  If that something requires you to go back to school, then so be it.  If it doesn’t, then you just saved yourself time, money, and pain.  Travel if possible.  If not, work jobs that humble you, that open your mind, that help other people.

Of course… what you should do and what is possible for us to do are two different things, unfortunately.

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Short stories? Whaaaaat?

Yes.  What?  I’ve read a few collections of short stories.  Notice, though, I said a few.  I don’t think I have really read or studied short stories since The Lottery or The Most Dangerous Game from Freshmen year in High School.  In fact, the collection I’m reading is The Best American Short Stories from 2008.. and I only have this collection because it was a gift from the English department of the college I attended as an undergrad.  I don’t know why I don’t read short stories.. I don’t think anyone knows why they don’t read short stories.. maybe because people walk into a book store not the short story store.  Unless a collection is published like above, you won’t find these short stories on shelves.  You can only find these works in literary journals or magazines… or, if you’re adventurous and don’t care whether the author has been approved by publishers, various websites on the internet (maybe even WordPress.com hmmm).  Anyway, who cares, right?  Except… short stories can be very interesting.  I recall reading The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe in middle school.  Choosing the most important aspects of a story, intricately weaving a theme or two into a smaller amount of print, etc… Edgar Allen Poe wrote a masterpiece.  Shirley Jackson and Richard Connell wrote masterpieces.  I don’t think this is true because my English teacher told me so.. nor because the rest of the world says so.  I think this is true because these stories immediately grab your attention, keeps your attention, and the story ends in an appropriate way relative to the message delivered.  There are SO many books that cannot do any of these..

This post is the first of a series of posts where I’ll kind of discuss the short stories within The Best American Short Stories from 2008.  

The first story is called Admiral, by T.C. Boyle.  The story is about a girl, Nisha, and her life after college.  She obtains a job as a dog-sitter.. sitting for the same people and for an almost-the-same dog from before college.  The story’s title is the name of the dog.  This dog has a little back story.  He’s an Afghan… but he’s also a clone O.o

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The Admiral Nisha took care of while in High School was hit by a car.  The Strikers (Admiral’s owners) are rich, and do as rich people do… they pour their love and affection, i.e. money, into Admiral, i.e. obsess over him.  When he dies, they decide that they will clone him.  However, to get the same dog they had before, the Strikers hire Nisha to recreate four of the years the first Admiral is alive.  

It is obvious that Nisha isn’t happy with this arrangement, despite the pay and benefits.  But who would be happy?  No college graduate, that’s for sure.  Every kid that goes to college believes that it is his/her way out… to get away from home, to get a degree which will lead to the job of his/her dreams.  But this doesn’t happen for everyone… and Nisha is one of those college graduates whose hopes are crushed and wind up back at home working the same dead-end job she worked in High School..  

This short story is long enough to let the readers know that Nisha’s past was ruled by Admiral, her present is about Admiral, and alludes to her future also being about Admiral.  

Man, if I were Nisha, I’d be upset as well.  To go to college on a scholarship and do so well, only to graduate to be treated like a High School student… it’s not at all what one expects.  This is the reason so many students are now going to graduate school.. and why one day a graduate degree will mean as little as a Bachelor’s *shrug*.

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The next story is called The Year of Silence by Kevin Brockmeier.  This one is quite unusual.. seemingly Science Fiction.  The story is based on a city, and narrated by a citizen of this city.  There are periodic unified silences.. literally not a sound for several seconds at a time.  The people of this city become obsessed with the peace that comes out of the silences.  Eventually, the people try to recreate the silence: “we would be reminded of the magnitude of what we were striving for.  How inexcusably flimsy, we realized, was the quiet we had managed to create.”  They try over and over again.  Once they succeed, periodic unified spurts of noise occur, and remind the people of the life they used to have.  With this reminder, the people go back to their old life and end the man-made silence.  

I can’t even tell you what the theme or lesson is for this story.  I’m so confused.  These people want the silence, the feeling of “contentment,” as they call it.  The narrator describes how people began to accomplish more, set goals for themselves and could see their lives clearly, and how they could sleep, and how “the quiet we had generated was so encompassing.”  Then, when the noise returns, “their minds [start] spinning with joy and exhilaration.”  So they were bored with the silence?  Did they feel secluded?  Did they feel lifeless?  Does the chaos they were so eager to be rid of actually breathe the life into them?  

Despite the fact that I’m not sure what is going on, this was a very interesting story and I highly enjoyed the concept.

The last story I will discuss in this post is called Galatea by Karen Brown.  A girl named Margaret living in upstate New York meets a boy named William.  They know each other for a week, and then spend a weekend together.. possibly having sex.  They marry at the end of the weekend… WTF?!  Statistically, marriages like this don’t last very long.  Brown adds another happy couple to that record; when Margaret tells William that it’s unacceptable for the theft of her property, he leaves her and never returns.  No, that’s a lie.  He returns to steal the rest of her stuff.  I think Brown is trying to tell us young women not to marry a man you hardly know.. or maybe we should learn to distinguish the difference between love and the sympathy-lust mixture.

I had to look up the meaning of Galatea, because my knowledge of Greek Mythology is minimal.  Wikipedia (an excellent source; give your 3 dollars!!) states that Acis, the spirit of the Acis river in Sicily, is the lover of Galatea, a sea-nymph.  Galatea means “she who is milk-white”… must be all that time she lets he skin prune in the ocean.  Anyway..  there is another who loves Galatea, the Sicilian Cyclops Polyphemus.  He is jealous, and pulls a braver King David, and kills Acis himself with a boulder.  Galatea then turns Acis’s blood into a Sicilian river, called Acis.  

The link between this story and that of Margaret is the temporary tragic love these women share with the respective men in the stories.  Both William and Margaret are lonely, searching souls.  They connect, and thus create “the illusion of the warmth we wanted.”  This is all it is though, an illusion. Margaret makes note: “how easily I could be abandoned”… and all William did was fall asleep.  If this was truly love, she wouldn’t feel abandoned, she would feel comforted.  She’s constantly observing William’s sad eyes, and always reassuring him over and over, when she also needs this reassurance:

“Tell me not to go,” he said.

“Tell me you want to stay,” I told him.

“Ask me to kiss you,” he said.

“Do you want to kiss me?”

Yet, the loneliness shared between them is enough.  The snow outside, covering reality, is enough to push them together.  It’s all enough for William and Margaret to get married.  Even though they both know, that this wasn’t really love:

“Isn’t this being in love?” he said

I told him I didn’t know.

Margaret doesn’t trust William though… they both know it.  And with all good reason!  I mean, he stole from you.  Then you find out that he’s the Collegetown Creeper (a fellow sneaking into girls’ apartments and watching them while they sleep).  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  I mean… he creeped on her too.  Unlike the rational girls who threw him out and called the cops, Margaret welcomed him into her bed XD  

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But one never knows what lonely hearts will do…

I’m going to post about every three I read.  Enjoy!