Dear Mentor: Is graduate school worth the effort?

Dear Mentor,

At times I feel overwhelmed by my grad program. Sometimes I just want to give it all up and sit by the fire and knit. Is there life after grad school? Is it worth getting through? What do you appreciate about your profession?

From Dorothy Boorse

I’ll actually answer a different question: what should I do about fantasizing about an easier course?

Answer: Always have a fantasy parallel life. Then periodically evaluate whether it would be better than the life you have. In my own fantasy life, I live on a farm, have goats, and write poetry. My husband is a gifted spiritual leader, thin and trim, and we have a ministry to the third world poor, including our horde of adopted children, even though we live in a pristine area of Vermont. We live apparently without a need for money and never waste anything, causing no environmental damage. I am famous, though humble, and retain rights to privacy and free time.

To be honest, there are more realistic fantasies. My other, dark fantasy is closer to reality if I did not have my current career. In it, my husband and I do not have our current jobs and give them up for something else such as sitting by the fire and knitting. Eventually, we need food. Either he gets a good paying job, and I stay home cleaning up, at which I am lousy and I find the work boring, or I go to work and discover that the only job I can find is driving a big rig, the stress of which sends me to an early, ulcerous grave.

Summary: There may be alternate careers which would be much better for you all around. Or it could be that in any course of life there are very difficult patches. You are probably in one. Get some vacation time and a break if you possibly can. Know that there will or at least can be time for hobbies later. Also know that honestly, it could be worse. I don’t mean this particularly tiring grim patch you are in; I mean the whole trajectory. People who do not have high-powered careers also have painful patches. So evaluate whether you are suited for and feel called to this direction. You might not be. But if you are, fantasize away, knit in your head, but don’t give up hope. An optimistic realist would know that knitting by a fireside might also have its problems.

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