Graduate school is hard. Cold and colorless. Most often sleepless. Penniless as well. Whoever thought one should take all those 20 odd courses in order to survive graduate school. Then there is actual research involved. There is TAing, and grading. You need to publish, network, acquire academic currency (as papers), and be in the good books of your advisor. The advisor is always pushing you, making you work harder, never approving of or appreciating your potential. So what if he is paying you to get an education? If PhD was that easy or fancy, everyone would be getting one. It is certainly not that easy to have a smooth ride of a PhD. Not when so many other distractions are involved.
You see, the single most distracting factor is called Facebook (there are many others, I assure you). You wake up every good morning with good intentions of doing some path breaking, jaw dropping research. But, what goes with your morning cup of coffee is the compulsive need to look at the tiny red button that tells you the number of comments and messages you have on Facebook. I would not be writing this post if things stopped there. Between classes and meetings, there is this compulsive need to stay abreast of what is happening in other people’s lives. We “comment” on pictures where we are not to be found, “like” status messages from friends that have no significance to us whatsoever, “join” communities on “How to train your adviser” or “PhD sucks”, “poke” people we would never talk to in parties, and constantly check not just the comments of others made to others, but the comments to the comments that others made on a post where we commented. The professor who claimed you were bad with numbers was crazy. For some inexplicable reason, you cannot remember the principles of matrices or determinants you learnt in your last class, but clearly remembered the number of comments and likes your recent update on “I am going to have an awesome time in Yellowstone next weekend” garnered. There is this constant need to update status messages multiple times a day, to check updates from others, to post albums every now and then giving others a glimpse of your awesome life, and deriving narcissistic pleasure by updating the world on the minutest detail like “Worked out at the gym for 2 hours” (who cares?), or “my baby loved eating strawberries today, yumm yumm !!” (20 out of 25 comments for this post would be “awwwwww”). You suddenly know of everything and everyone, the Bangla aaNtel kobita that man you met just once writes (which you hardly understand), that friend of a friend’s friend you don’t know, but still stalk on Facebook, or the menu and guest list of the last potluck party you missed, whose pictures were just posted.
Things do not stop on Facebook. There are the blogs you read everyday, comment, and comment to the comment the previous commentator makes. You read news, you read other people’s secrets on Postsecret (to be fair, I do it only on Sundays). There is this compulsive need to check weather, not just where you live, but in some remote place like Ullhasnagar you might visit in future someday. There is random browsing on Craigslist, Amazon, and Yelp. You need to know of every possible deal in the city. You are still debating whether to cast a wider net on Google Plus and Twitter. Linkedin is constantly sending you updates about the people you recently added. Netflix is suggesting movies you should watch, based on the recent ratings you posted. There is a bunch of emails from stores and services you subscribed to. The local confectionary is giving away free cookies with purchases of $20 or more. There is this long email chain going on (45 emails and counting) about the upcoming Bijoya Sammelani potluck in 2 weeks, where the chicks are discussing what color of sarees they should wear, and if they should be color coordinated with their partners. And last, but not the least, the Google chat window is perennially open (who logs out of Gmail?), you constantly eyeballing who is online and who is busy, in the hopes that someone as jobless as you are will be nice enough to say hi.
Now with the human brain having a definite (and certainly measurable) attention span and the capacity to bear a somewhat fixed amount of cognitive load, I don’t blame you that you cannot finish deadlines on time, hardly get the time to do class readings before class, are perennially sleep deprived and grumpy, just asked for a project extension, and have started to question if getting a PhD is a waste of your youth after all. I am totally empathetic, being guilty of the same follies myself (everything that was written as “you” so far referred to “me”). You see, if Newton was sitting under the apple tree with his laptop, gravitation would never be discovered. Instead of thinking about what just happened, he would get busy updating Facebook, “An apple fell on my head, that’s a bad apple !!!” (a comment that would garner him 45 likes and 30 comments about the best cider places in town and the current recruitment policies of Apple). Imagine how Einstein’s life would be if he was Facebooking and Netflixing from his lab in Princeton. No wonder graduate school is hard these days, and advisers just do not understand.