Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts On Grad School, One Grad Student and his 'Better'

In considering what my career path could've been as opposed to what it is, I'm struck by how many opportunities I've had to give up to placate the wishes of another (my supposed better).

One reason I chose the grad school I did were the multiple faculty connections to a think tank I would've have loved to spend a summer at and hopefully start a relationship with. I soon determined that my better didn't like said think tank. I have no doubt reprisals or general harassment would've resulted had I tried to spend a summer there.

Once in grad school, I wanted to do some research of my own choosing. I had ideas and worked on mergers and churches and the distribution of church sizes. While both deal with churches and religion (a topic my better belittles on a regular basis), the basic tools of both studies could be used to analyze similar problems in business or economic applications. My research just analyzed a certain type of firm called a church. I also did some work on firm location choice.

All of this research had the potential to broaden my horizons, produce a publication or two, and create some marketable skills. None of this fit with my better's research agenda so my efforts in these directions were discouraged and occasionally ridiculed.

If my memory serves, I did some background work on six different topics that had some relation to my better's research interests and pitched them to him in the hopes of getting a dissertation topic. These were either ignored or received a response of 'Ok, but.....' I wasted a good year and a half doing this.

Eventually my better had me set up a meeting with someone he had tried unsuccessfully to make contact with in order to acquire research funding from him. We had a meeting supposedly about 'my' dissertation, but the meeting was dominated by my better. I finally gave up and gave in and agreed to a topic he wanted in order to try to escape.

My better later told me (probably a year later) that he had chosen 'my' dissertation topic before I ever step foot on campus. It was then that I realized that I never had a choice in anything I had done. If 'my' research didn't fall in line with what my better wanted, it was not worth doing and I was discouraged accordingly. I honestly believe that part of the reason I was discouraged from doing other research was to make sure that I didn't have any other options with my dissertation and had to do what my better wanted or else. My better once told my office mate that grad school was the last chance you'd have to research what you wanted to research. What a cruel joke!

The complete and total lack of respect for what the grad student desires, for the desire to push his career in the path he desires, and the thinly veiled manipulation of the grad student for the objectives of one's better is inexcusable. The topic I've been forced to work on uses very specialized methods that are not useful in any other application. The data does not exist to properly conduct his study. 'My' dissertation is a joke and is nothing but an attempt by my better to further his agenda. If I escape, I will be in the subbasement of the profession. I do not possess basic proficiency in any commonly used methods in the profession or in industry. 

If my better had told me that I was his indentured servant for the next five years and that the fa├žade of pretending to care about my desires was simply a cruel trick, I might have dropped out of grad school with a little dignity intact.