I was going to write about the Chronicle article on frustrating grad students, but I was alternating between writing two articles and playing Civilization. Besides, New Kid did a stellar job. I couldn’t possibly top her.
I just want to throw in a few of my own comments, as a recent graduate student who had a lot of obstacles to success. New Kid mentioned that grad school often creates a culture the prevents students from being completely honest with their advisers. Are you really going to tell your adviser that you’re enjoying your research, but when you’re done, you think you might want to settle down and make apple pies or, god forbid, get a corporate job that has nothing to do with your work? I’m thinking that’s not going to go over well.
I think I was pretty honest with both of my advisers. The person I wasn’t honest with was myself. I should have followed my interests instead of following what I thought the market would be interested and what people told me I was good at. I liked and respected my first adviser very much and at first, I was interested in my topic, but my interest was not great enough to sustain a dissertation, much less a research agenda later on. I couldn’t get myself motivated enough to think about original ways into my topic. Throw in a relocation halfway across the country, two kids and a spouse on the tenure track and well, regular readers know how that turned out.
I’m sure I was frustrating in many ways. But life gets in the way and grad school isn’t really a culture that tolerates life events, pangs of doubt, and feelings of inferiority. So it’s hard to come clean about all of that and get the advice you need and deserve.
Both Gradgrand and some of New Kid’s commenters point out not just frustrating grad students, but unprofessional ones. Many of those may indeed put one off of advising, but it seems unfair to let the truly bad apples affect the ones who may, in fact, be pears.