Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why does grad school take so long?

A Valentine's Cake (unrelated to the post)
Yes, I have been in grad school for a long time. =) I often get asked why it takes so long so I thought I'd write a post about what grad school has been like for me and why I think it takes so long to get a PhD.

I think the first thing that makes grad school take so long in my program is that we have to work part-time (20 hrs/week) as a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, or Instructor. That's 20 hours a week that we can't work on our own research. On the other hand, it really isn't a bad deal because we get PAID. They pay our tuition, health insurance, and a salary. It certainly isn't much money, but all things considered, it isn't such a bad deal to be paid to go to school. It's actually more money than I made working full-time at a retail job shortly after graduating from college, especially because that job didn't have benefits. These TA/RA/Instructor jobs don't last forever though, there is a bit of a limit to how long the university is willing to pay us to stay here, so there is some incentive to get done!

We also spent a lot of time applying for funding. We apply for all kinds of funding. I have a constant slough of scholarship applications, fellowship applications, grant applications, etc. that I am always revising my resume for, writing statements of purpose, personal statements, and summaries of my research for. The one that takes up the most time though is the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Grant. This is the main place that students in my program apply to for research money for their projects. The application is very competitive though and students in my program routinely spend years refining their research proposals. I spent about a year on mine before I applied and I was turned-down, so now I have been revising it for another year but it is still not ready to re-submit. All this takes away from the time I could spent do the analysis for my dissertation...but I need money to finish the analysis, so the cycle continues!

There is also a constant slough of departmental responsibilities that come along with being a grad student. We have to serve on committees, attend seminars, and of course, drink beer when one of our peers passes a big exam, gets a grant, has a paper published, or finishes and gets a job!

Most of us aren't in grad school to avoid "real life" or because we don't know what we "want to do." We are getting our PhD's because we want to be archaeologists, we want to have good jobs, and have the opportunity to innovative research. And okay, maybe just a little bit because we don't want to grow up. =) Mostly grad school isn't a cake-walk though. PhD's are hard, and they take a long time. If they were easy, I suppose everyone would have one. There is one thing I know I will miss thought when I am done, and that is the other grad students. I have made some amazing friends, I share an office with many of them, and as one of them said: "they make the good times fun and the bad times tolerable." I have to admit, it is a little scary to think about going out into the real world without them.


I added a photo of the cake I made for Valentine's. This was my first time using fondant to decorate - more about that in another post!

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