In September we were all eager and hopeful little students. They stood up and told us how important we were to the department. They told us how much fun we would have, and how much they looked forward to our insightful contributions to human knowledge. They advised us, “Get Involved! Join the student society! Start reading groups with your new peers! Network!”
Well, I listened. I started three reading groups, in fact. These groups are no longer active.
They fibbed. It was a happy and comforting piece of advice, meant to make us feel good about our new intellectual environment without any expectation that we would follow it.
It’s hard to find a meeting time for a group that allows all the keen to participate. It’s hard to motivate people to keep up with readings without any external incentive. It’s hard to balance a regular hunk of reading with shifting priorities and irregular deadlines. It’s hard to stay one step ahead, choosing insightful readings when you know no more about a topic than anyone else.
Ignore Their banalities. There is little correlation between involvement in a graduate student society and success. Reading groups are hard and rare. Without a proper context and culture, energetic networking remains awkward even in an intellectual environment like ours.
Paul Buchheit claims, “Limited Life Experiences + Overgeneralization = Advice.” The advice we were given follows a different and also common equation: “Idealized View of the World + Lack of Thought = Advice.”
In this case, the idealized view of grad school involves lots of stimulating conversation with a variety of brilliant intellects. The reality is that most of our time is spent on independent learning. This isn’t a value judgement—I’m personally happier than ever. I just want to point out the discrepancy.