December 01, 2004

Curious George: Academia! Since it

The first half of this question was posted recently in Ask MeFi, but I thought it bore repeating here. Further expansion on Part 2: Currently my parents are footing the bill for my education, which I

  • Yeah, take a year out. Or three years. Whatever. Do whatever the fuck you want to do. It's your life, and as you say, there's no template, except stupid peer norms. You can get your degree any time, man. Trust me, you take some time out, you will be re-energised for learning again & probly even have new areas you know you want to explore. As for what job to take, don't ask me.
  • Might I suggest a year of studying abroad? I know a few friends in University who were able to go to europe (norway and italy) to study for a semester or two. If you can get into program that has co-op placements take one. Sure you'll lose a semester of school, pushing your graduation further and further back, but it's great experience and can be pretty damn fun at the same time. Then again, I'm in my 4th year right now, and there's still no light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not sure if I should be giving advice on how to not feel like killing yourself over school work.
  • Nostril: Well, now I'm curious as to what you do. Thanks for the encouragement. Tempest: I've been eagerly and desperately trying to pursue that option for the past few years, but due to the previously mentioned issues, I've managed to get a few incompletes, which have not done a lot in making applying for study abroad any easier... I'd really love to find some way to finish my degree studying abroad. Part of me is curious about which part of this question will be answered more, which is the tricky part of posting two-part questions... I just wanted to make sure to have topics that everyone could have experience with. Seems like Part 2 is off to an early lead.
  • Oh, and tempest, feel free to weigh in on what classes you've taken that didn't make you want to kill yourself over them.
  • I don't do anything at all! That's the great part. I dropped out of art college intending to take a year off.. that was in 1988. At some point I became a sound engineer, had sex with girls, and started smoking an awful lot of dope. I highly recommend it. Maybe this is not entirely the motivation for an academic career you require..
  • You might try going to people/companies that interest you and asking about internships. These usually last from 3-6 months and can be a nice break from school if you're feeling unfocused. The best part is, you get a paycheck, and "internship" looks much better on a resume than "took six months off to get my shit together". Sometimes you can even get school credit for doing this. It can be a lot easier to approach a prospective situation as seeking an internship, as well, as opposed to getting a real job / apprenticeship, since it's a temporary thing from the start. Both you and the employer tend to be more relaxed about things. Lots of things can count as being an intern, look around.
  • A good part of my current career comprises writing about career issues, so part 2 of this question kind of pushes a big button for me. First off, despite what you might have heard in college, these days most folks have a variety of careers before they're through. The days of 40-years-and-a-gold-watch are over. You don't need to make any binding decisions right now. And you can always change paths as you go. Also, I'm glad you don't have the corporate-work-is-the-only-real-work blinders on, like many of your college classmates probably do. There's a world of stuff you can do aside from traditional office work. Despite what most new graduates, and most of their parents, think. You can try for a creative career. Get a job tending bar and write short stories -- that kind of thing. Start a band. Or, if you're more cautious by temperament, you might learn graphic design or some other creative skill that you can use in both non-paying creative work and office work. You can do physical work, or learn a trade, or both. Be a lifeguard. Or a carpenter. Or a ski instructor. Or a TV cameraman. Or whatever. You can go live in another country and work whatever menial job will pay the bills. You can be a ski bum. Either way, you might bump into a "real" career in the process. And if not, so what? Great experiences are great experiences. You can become an academic. Go get your PhD in the field of your choice. Just be aware that that means a lot more school and potentially a big hunk 'o debt. And in many disciplines, a very tight job market when you finally finish school, meaning you may have to leave the place where you've started to settle down while in school to move halfway across the country to some godforsaken place. On the flipside, you'll get to continue working in the world of ideas, at least to some degree. Or you can become a teacher at a lower (HS, elementary) education level. You won't get rich, but you might love what you do. And so on. The point is, don't feel limited by what others expect you to do. As Nostrildamus says, it's your life. And you only get to live it once. And as far as needing to "do something" with your college degree, fuck that. You can find challenge and fulfillment (and smart people -- believe me, you'll find brilliant people in any direction you take, whether they've been formally educated or not) in a whole range of career paths, not just the ones the banking-and-consulting-loving bozos in your college careers office are focused on. In terms of more corporate jobs, my advice would be to think through the possibilities in two ways -- first, in terms of job function, and second, in terms of industry. Is there a skill that you love to use, or that you want to develop? Do you want to work with computers? IT's the general career area for you. Do you like working with numbers? Maybe finance or accounting are for you. And in terms of industry, are there particular products or services that you find fascinating? Maybe it's the film industry or bust for you. Or maybe it's gaming. Whatever. Thinking about corporate careers in terms of both career function and industry may be very helpful for you.
  • Seeing as how I just got accepted to a major univeristy at age 32 (Go Badgers!), I don't know if I can offer any useful advice. I'll do what I can. Here's what I think. If you have 3ish years in - definately finish. I know it sucks, but that's a pretty hefty investment to walk away from. Also, it is your life - and you only get one. Do what you like. College isn't the key to success or happiness. But it can be non-trivial to pick up where you left off - the rivers of beer that I've consumed since I left school are not helping me do calculus very well *now*, and I have work double hard to make up for it. Also, if you're feeling stagnant, you probably are. See if you can't get an internship or join a club or something. Hope this helps, and good luck.
  • I took two years off and worked a shitty dead end job. Let me tell you, nothing lights a fire under your ass like the prospect of alphabetizing forms for the next ten years. When I went back I was ready, not only did I ace all my classes but I had a blast doing it. Complete 180 turn. Classes I was surprised to discover I liked: music history, religious studies, meteorology.
  • Ditto what Mr.Nostril said. Listen to your heart. If you're fucking around and wasting your folk's money it's probably good to get out for a while. Just might mean cutting the money-lifeline from your parents. Get a job. Any job. Pack up and move. Blow off steam with chemical self-abuse (short-term only.) Fall in love/lust. Learn a skill from somebody else (martial art, musical instrument, etc) Just remember -- 1. try not to hurt anybody. 2. When you find what you want, go after it with all your heart. It yook me 10 years of wandering to figure out what I was doing (after fading out of college.) Now I'm one fucking happy monkey.
  • If you have options, a job you can take, enough in the bank to travel for awhile, whatever will give you some perspective - do it! I didn't, got my engineering degree on time, went to grad school and imploded after 6 months, then spent years picking up the pieces because I couldn't handle that I had fallen off the treadmill. Yuck. On the other hand, Pogo's got a good point about not dropping the ball at the 50 yard line. You can still do the other stuff after you get your degree if that seems like it'll work out better for you.
  • Hawkeyes rule! Badgers drool! I can't really discuss options outside of academia, because I've been in academia since I was four years old. As for classes, I'm biased, but there's always astronomy (Warning! There be equation dragons here!). Most of the classes I liked had more to do with the professor than the subject matter.
  • If you are having trouble passing your classes due to lack of motivation, leave and make room for someone who might actually benefit from the university experience. But, if you are nearing and can make it to the degree, slog it out. You will have way more options for work and travel with that degree in your hand (no matter your major) while you wander the world and figure out what to do with your life. In the US people with college degrees average double the income of those without, and though money cannot buy happiness it does expand your options.
  • wander...i've been exactly where you are right now, and very recently. after a serious bout of emotional problems (mostly having to do with lack of self-motivation, lack of interest in my school work, major insecurity, and a severe reaction against the college pre-professional mentality), i seriously considered taking some time off. but surprise! I'm still in school, and the thing that kept me here was...great courses and inspiring professors, plus finding a bunch of extra-curricular activities that made those tuition bills (and my college experience) more worthwhile. While you can look into some one-year programs, like City Year or internships, that will give you some time to clear your head, you can also check out courses in the following departments: philosophy, literature, sociology, history. All of my professors in the humanities have been genuinely intellectual, compassionate, knowledgeable people, and I have learned, through them, that analyzing literature, philosophy and history at the college level can be truly empowering and important work. I tend toward mostly multi-cultural courses, so favorites have been Indian Philosophy, African-American lit, Theories of Gender and Sexuality, and modern African history. I also highly recommend doing something with your college experience beyond academics. Join a club or activity that allows you to get off campus, or interact with people in a non-academic setting, or otherwise pursue one of your interests. All this being said, I'm planning on going abroad next semester and am really looking forward to the experience because I do think that taking a break from American higher education can be a very good thing. If your school doesn't offer it's own study abroad programs, check out CIEE or SIT (sorry, don't know the links), two well-known and well-run programs that offer college credit for programs in a variety of locations. sorry if this response was a little over-the-top. just felt i could relate and wanted to offer some encouragement. hope it helps.
  • I'd have to say that I haven't really felt the desire to die (or quit school) over any course since sweaking out a pass in my intro to inorganic Chemistry class... that was a couple years ago too. I still shudder thinking about how bad I felt walking out of that final exam. However I'm really interested in what I study right now, so that helps out more than you'd know.
  • I just fucked around playing the bass all over the country for 15 years or so after HS. My (very bad) advice to you is to do exactly what the fuck you want for as long as you possibly can. Take drugs, drink, screw around. (But don't forget to read! And have a think while you're out there!) Go back to school when you figure out what you want to study and do a PhD. Or don't. Make a path for yourself. Mine's been good, despite a lot of years of just telling people I couldn't abide to go and get fucked. And now I'm friends with everybody! Well, with a lot of perverts, anyway. /far too candid
  • I loved most of my classes and stayed in for an MA (medieval history), so I'm a bad person to ask for what to do about lack of motivation for going to class. However, I know a number of people who flunked out/got bored and unmotivated/etc. One of the things that they tried that hasn't been mentioned was changing schools. You might consider finishing up at a different school. Five years after you get your degree, it won't matter where you got it. The only exception is if you're in a school with a good alumni network, and if you have a lot of friends, that won't matter if you were there long enough. I went to Rice, which has the alumni network, and people I know who blew out early still network, get job leads, date/marry, etc. in our social circle.
  • Wander- I agree with those who say get out and go do something else. I started college at the traditional age, was in an area that didn't interest me and was more keen to socialize and experiment with certain substances than go to class. After two years of this (earning a cumulative GPA of .9), I left school and pursued a wide range of hourly jobs (sales, bartending, make-up lady, dishwasher, etc), sold all my stuff and used the money to go to London for the hell of it, made a lot of friends, had sex, drugs, rock and roll- the time of my life. When I was 30, I decided I was ready to go to school. I plowed through undergrad and two Masters degrees in 5 years (with a cumulative GPA of 3.9) and am now finishing up my PhD coursework in a discipline I had never heard of the first time I tried college. I do what I love and love what I do! I was thinking just last night about how the classes I always expected to be horribly boring (bio-anthropology, linguistics) were usually my favorites, because they introduced me to completely new areas of study and challenged me beyond what I thought I could manage. I'm glad to see that you are intelligent enough to consider taking a break. I have far too many students who are in my class and hating every minute of it, just barely passing (or not), learning nothing, wasting time and money because they are trying to finish on that 4-year schedule in a field that their parents or high school guidance counselor chose for them. Screw that. Leave. Go surf, travel, work weird jobs, move to a new place, read, read, read, form new opinions and challenge old ones. Maybe you'll find something you're really passionate about. Maybe you'll go back to school, maybe you won't. It's your life- squeeze everything you can from it. Good luck!
  • The notion that after graduating college your entire career path should be set out in front of you is a total myth. I know plenty of people who had no idea what to do with themselves, quit school, and ended up being very successful. I also know people who followed the "correct" path, graduated college, went on to whatever they thought they wanted to do, and are now moping around their apartments that their parents pay for while they undergo a mid-life crisis at age 26. I'd opt for the change of scenery, unless you're so close to finishing that you might as well polish off the degree, and then take a nice long vacation. Just be sure to keep learning, no matter what you do. Used bookstores often have cheap college textbooks on a wide variety of subjects. Keep reading. See how many Pulitzer Prize winning novels you can read. Watch a lot of the science channel. Go out and meet interesting people who have interesting careers or hobbies, and pick their brains. As for fun classes, my favorites in college were Soviet History, Pistol Shooting, Sailing, Comparative Religious Studies, and Cooking. By all means, learn to cook. And I mean cook well - not just brownies and chicken parm. You'll know you've arrived when you can make a 5 course meal from scratch with whatever you find lying around the house.
  • I have to recommend never going into a field where you have to did to justify why it is worthwhile. I'm in grad school and there was some seminar with grad students from multiple disciplines and some were complaining about how to make their subject relevent to students and I felt so glad I never have to do that. I study videogames and videogame players, but while that may sound trivial, the videogame industry is a multi-Billion dollar industry and hundreds of thousands if not millions of people are playing as we read this. If that isn't reason enough to study them, I don't know what is. So many of my students are just taking classes so they can get some end goal, and I can't get with that. Take classes because you like it. If I was just taking classes so I could go on to something else totally unrelated, I would hate school as much as some of my students seem to.
  • Thanks all. So, the important points I've picked up seem to be: -Don't go to school. -Do a lot of drugs. If only my parents could read this thread. Kidding. there's a lot of good things in here. I really appreciate all the input everyone has given, it's made me feel a lot better about things, and reminded me that listening to yourself is the most important thing. Nostril, your advice is really refreshing, actually. HawthorneWingo- thanks for the well-thought reply. I actually am in a career-planning class right now, because I thought it would give me some insight... but aside from some of the self-analysis we've done, it's really only served as a reminder of how much I dislike all the talk about interviews, resumes, elaborate constructs and scripted dances, all of which just leaves me feeling gross afterwards. I feel like I got more out of your post than what I'm getting out of the last few classes I went to. Corporate work is the last thing I want to do. I realize that not all corporations are the same, but there's next to none that I feel that interested in. Many of the careers you described are ones I've thought about before, and have very much interested me. I want to find some way to combine all of my interests into a career, but it's been difficult to figure that out. I would love to be a musician or a writer, to travel, to keep studying, to learn new trades, teach, or become a counseling psychologist... it's just at the moment, when I think of how to get to any of those things, the emotional issues come back into play. I need to get those figured out first, which of course is the most obvious thing to do... It's not the simplest thing to do, however. Cali - What you wrote reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which I could never get myself to finish). One of the points that the author brings up is that more people should get out and work first, and then go to school, so they'll actually know what they want... Meteorology, huh? That actually sounds interesting, but I would've never thought to take it. Thanks. cabingirl - I'm definitely thinking I need a break right now. Pogo and LarryC, I realize what you're saying is good advice, and it is the notion that degrees get you better jobs is what makes me a bit apprehensive to take a break. However, I've also heard of a few people that graduated recently, and ended up going back to the jobs they had in high school for lack of alternatives.
  • dirigibleman - I'll definitely second you on the professors determining the class. I've become interested in classes that I didn't think I would and really disliked classes I thought I would solely due to who was teaching. horrorshow - Your response was definitely not over the top... It's nice to know someone else can relate. I will probably stay in school through next semester for lack of anything else set up, and I think I'm going to just cast off any notions of focusing on a direction and try to take classes I like. I've really been wanting to get into multi-cultural, I didn't know about them until recently, and all the course descriptions I've read have seemed very interesting. I've been trying to join clubs, but it's somewhat difficult on a larger campus, when clubs only meet once a week, and if there are schedule conflicts, then there's not much you can do. I'm at the University of Minnesota, so there is a good Study Abroad program here. We also do have CIEE and SIT, but thanks for reminding me about them. Wolof - As with Nostril, it's really reassuring to know that that's an option. No advice is necessarily good or bad. immlass - I've actually just transferred schools, and it's been a bit of a struggle thus far... I changed from a school of 1,500 to 50,000, and it's been harder to meet people than I thought it would be. bibliochick - That is AMAZING. I think people forget just how much of a difference that motivation can make. Both bio-anthropology and linguistics sound really interesting, actually. Where did you move to London from? Where are you now? I really want to move to Europe. Jaypro22 - I've had to take a break from Used Bookstores, as I was getting more books than I could read... I didn't know you could take a class on sailing. I will have to do some looking now. Cooking is something I'm surprised more people don't do. I've been working on my cooking skills for the past few years, although one thing that's gotten in the way is I seem to enjoy cooking for other people more. jccalhoun - In the past I've toyed with the idea of doing something related to videogames. I think they get poor coverage by the media, but some games I've played I consider on the same level as good books/films. I don't see why they shouldn't deserve study like said things, but then again, I'm not really sure which aspects of them you study. Okay. I feel like I tried too hard in responding to everyone, but I really do appreciate everyone posting.
  • I changed from a school of 1,500 to 50,000, and it's been harder to meet people than I thought it would be. Wow. I went to Rice (3500, including 1000 grad students), and I don't know if I could have coped with UT-Austin, which is, I think, my comparison number. If you're overwhelmed and without a support system, you might do better to transfer to a different small school. I was thinking of a person I know (who will remain nameless, because there's an off-chance he might read this) who left Rice, ended up getting an AA at a junior college in Jacksonville, Texas, and got his BA in a different department at Southwestern in Georgetown (near Austin). Changing schools and majors and getting away from the bad habits and company he had had/hung around with at Rice were key to him cleaning up his act and getting his degree.