Piled, Higher and Deeper

Last night, at the Rackham Graduate School when the organizer mentioned that the event was a part of the Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week the audience cracked up upon hearing the oxymoronic title. More so, because I and a few hundred others had come to listen to Jorge Cham, the creator of the Ph.D. - Piled, Higher and Deeper comic strip speak on the Power of Procrastination. I have been reading his strip for the past couple of years and it has not only been a source of entertainment, but also a source of great comfort by telling me - "You are not alone!".

Cham created created the strip while working on a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford (when he should have been working on his research!) for the college magazine. It was an outlet for his joys, frustrations, irritations and guilt-ridden moments as went through grad school for a number of years (Note: the ambiguous 'number of'. Why? see).
He had no idea that his joys, frustrations, irritations and guilt-ridden moments were the same as thousands (and counting) of other grad students around the world in all kinds of fields and places. There is no surprise that the strip spread like a wildfire mostly through word-of-mouth.(Well, atleast among graduate students. The local Borders informed me last evening that the books were still 'On Order')
Jorge Cham has captured everything that is grad life - checking email incessantly, strolling in late, working on Friday evenings to make up, CTRL+C CTRL+V-ing papers to get to conferences in exciting places, one-on-one advisor meetings, the pecking order in the lab. This one below is one of my favourites:

At some point (some more than others) every grad student wonders - WHY? Why did I do this? You could have been making big bucks, buying a new car/home, raising kids, instead of sitting in a basement lab checking email in front of bowl of Ramen noodles while it is such a nice day outside and you are not even becoming a 'real' doctor! Why? Especially, when grad school actually makes you dumber - in the sense that when you leave it you actually know that you really don't know much; in sharp contrast from the overconfident self that proclaimed only a few years ago that: "I don't know a few things, that's all. I have figured out most of everything else."
Jorge Cham showed stats from a study that 95% of the students feel overwhelmed in grad school (He demanded: "Who are the other 5%?"), about 60% feel that they are 'impostors' and don't belong there and on a more serious note 1 in 200 students actually commits suicide. Grad school can get rough.
Then again it is also a lot of fun. No 'real' work. Freedom of work hours. Endless cups of coffee. Lab members willing to go to a bar anytime of the day or night. Learning and working on exciting stuff. Free education. Being able to surf the net all day. It is really worth it - trust me!
For the rough spots there is the Ph.D. comic to make grad school more guilt-free, bearable and even enjoyable. Most importantly, it tells you - "You're okay!". Jorge addressed the pink elephant in the room - the deepest darkest fear of any graduate student: "But, will I graduate?" According to Jorge and his Newton's Second Law of Graduation - You will graduate. Don't worry. Enjoy your time in school. Well Jorge does know, since Jorge actually graduated and is now a faculty member at Caltech where he will hopefully treat his graduate students differently (he currently doesn't have any)

BTW: The topic of the talk was to show that Procrastination &ne Laziness
Laziness: Not wanting to do anything
Procrastination: Wanting to do things, but just not NOW!!

Also check out: Newton's Law of Graduation and the motivation levels of a graduate student.


Ashutosh said...

It's worth it...- I concur!
When I started my PhD. I was all geared up to try to finish it ASAP. Now I have given up on the thought. It's more important to enjoy it than to finish it soon. Of course, I also don't want to hang around for 8 years because then:
1. You get addicted to the 'enjoyment' (yeah right...)
2. You become incapable of steeping outside the protected environment of grad school (yeah right...)

Sujay said...

Seems to be on a tour. Was in our school last week.

Sumedha said...

I have only recently woken up to the fact that I need to spend 4 more years in my poky underground lab; earning this ridiculously low salary and taking difficult courses, to boot!