Monday, April 25, 2011

Working on a configuration upgrade?

I cannot help but notice that these days, my blog is all about PhDism. I know how annoying it can get for someone whose life doesn’t significantly revolve around a PhD. It is an irritable feeling akin to reading those gushy mushy status updates from new moms who, from breastfeeding to the texture of poop, cannot stop themselves from discussing anything under the mommyhood sky. On a side side note (anti-mommy updates being the side note here), I realize I have now opened up my blog for some sex seeking desperate people on the internet who end up at this blog while looking for keywords like breast, sex, or even car mein zabardasti [I have a cool way of tracking what words people were looking for when they landed on my blog], but I digress here. My post was neither about the activities of pornsters on the prowl, nor was about women who cannot stop showing off their newly acquired motherhood status. My post was very much about me, my academic daddy, and the amazing gyaan he gives me gratis that makes me want to rechristen this American dude as Sant Gyani Singh. No matter how intimidating and academically charismatic he is, once in a while he never fails me amuse me with the plethora of gyaan he has to offer.

We were arguing about my scintillating academic life (or the lack of it) and about how many courses I should be taking to make myself a coveted candidate while I am out there job hunting (I don’t believe he is discussing job hunting already, and I have been like 8 months into my program). The story goes that I made a face when he said he wants me to take 6 levels of statistics courses and 3 levels of qualitative methodology courses. That is a lot, given any standards, ensuring I have to take 4-5 core courses every semester. Some of them are not even required courses, and the problem of crossing the age of 16 or all this “living and thinking independently” jazz of an American life is that sometimes you don’t listen to academic daddies, and wrongly believe that you know more about your academic well being than your daddy does. Anyway, I will paraphrase what he told me, and I will take the effort of doing this because I believe this gyaan will benefit at least some of you who are trying to do a Ph.D and don’t argue with academic daddy as often as I do.

While in graduate school, you are like a computer processor in the making. As you take classes and learn new skill sets, you are constantly enhancing the features of your processor. Your configuration is constantly improving. You take classes, write exams, and learn new skills. However once you are out of graduate school, out there in the job market, the features in your processor have been determined, and you cannot change it. Sure you can go for those external upgrades, adding a feature every now and then by auditing a class or attending a conference, but these are external features. What you learn in graduate school goes in building your core, your inherent qualities of a researcher. Hence, it is very important for you to take every remotely relevant course, take exams (and not just audit courses), learn new skills, and do everything that you hesitate to learn and fool yourself into believing that you will learn once you get a job. Anything you want to be in life after PhD, graduate school is the only chance you will get to build your processor from the scratch. The rest of it gets added along the way, but only as additional features. So go take that class because once you graduate, you will never get to take a class again, no matter how much you want.

I don’t understand much of computers or technology, but I loved his analogy. Hence, these days I am found neck-deep in course work and assignments, building my processor before they tell me that the model has been outdated again. And finally, I learnt an important thing from this conversation. I learnt that it is awesome to have a smart, geeky, and technocratic physicist for an academic daddy.



AJ said...

Could not agree more! I have been in industry for only a short while, and have been juggling tasks, but it is the 'core' developed during grad school that helps me take any challenge. The more non-related the course was to my thesis, the more useful it is now.

Kolor said...

You seem to have a very balanced academic daddy. Someone who is really concerned about your long term welfare. There are a lot of faculty who make their students quickly finish off their courses and just do research from then on so as to max out publishing schedules.

Kolor said...

Also, I like your analogy about boring junta with PhDism to new born moms. Bad move maybe ? given that most of your friends are new mommies. But I guess giving a damn about these things stopped a while back for you. :)