Red - Column for 4/4

The Price of Admission

I was on the phone with my mother one time, and told her that a friend was thinking about going to grad school and had asked me some questions. She laughed and said, "Did you talk her out of it yet?"

I have mixed emotions about having gone to grad school -- Sometimes more mixed than others. Right now, I'm pretty happy with it. I have this great job doing just what I love, which wouldn't have been available without the Ph.D.

However, if you asked me (and oddly it is not that uncommon a question) whether I would do it all again (i.e. go to grad school ), my answer varies. Most of the time the answer is "no." Some days, when I realize how lucky I am to be doing something I enjoy, I say "Yes, if I didn't know then what I know now." I'm glad I have the degree now, but I'm not sure I would have gone ahead with it if I had known what it was going to cost me.

Last week, when I was suffering through another bout of one of several chronic medical conditions I picked up in grad school, was a "No" week. The problem is that in grad school the stress level was so high, that my body was basically eating itself. And when afterwards my stress level decreased, the damage was done. So now I have a bunch of stress related illnesses, that can bee triggered by almost anything, including, of course, stress.

I am not the only one. I would guess that every person that I went to grad school with, had at least one stress related problem, usually a chronic stress related problem, which they acquired in grad school. (I know the statement is true for almost all of them.) I was an overachiever. I got several. And they have conspired to make me a wimp.

I used to be sturdier. I used to like to camp. I had at one time thought about trying to hike the Appalachian Trail. Now with the problems I have with my skin and eyes, I can't really go anyplace that doesn't have hot showers and clean sheets. When the man I love starts talking about traveling around the wilds of Mongolia my skin starts to itch preemptively. Anytime I travel I have to carry along a gallon Ziplock bag full of prescription and over-the-counter skin products. Going for the weekend to the Renaissance festival involves packing a fair number of additional unusual things including baby shampoo so I can wash my eyelashes and gentle Dove cleansing cloths, so I can at lest get my face clean before going to bed. But mostly, I have to come home in a few days so I can get with in range of those aforementioned hot showers and clean sheets.

I hate it. I don't do the fragile-flower-of-womanhood thing very well. But I'm stuck with it ... that was my price.

My advice to prospective grad students would be this: You have to really love the topic and the work, because it is the only thing that makes it worth the price of admission.

Columns by Red