10 July 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

Summer is the time of arrivals and departures. People move to new apartments, new cities, new schools. People come to Buffalo and find a new apartment, 18-year-olds come to the university campus for orientation, and all these new faces suddenly appear. At the same time, old faces disappear as well.

Some of these disappearances are good, some are bad.

A disappearance is good if it is accompanied by much fanfare: a dissertation defense perhaps, and a successful one at that. I have a German friend, who just defended her dissertation, and she is finally leaving Buffalo after being here for more than half a decade. I am happy for her, unfortunately, my travel plans didn't allow me to be present in her dissertation defense.

However, bad disappearances also happen. Some people feel that they are not cut out for the program, and therefore decide to drop out. Our department is not immune to that. Several people left the program this summer, and although some of them I really don't care about, some of them are actually people who are close to me. And seeing your friends go because a dream turned out to be just like that, a dream, is sometimes disappointing.

I think there are several factors that are involved in succeeding in graduate school. First, there is the most important thing: drive. One needs the proper motivation in order to finish it. One needs to really want this thing. If one is in graduate school for any reason aside from actually wanting it, then chances are the endeavor will fail.

Another thing that is important is one's brain capacity. Not everyone of us is created intellectually equal. That's why there is the IQ measure, which conforms to a normal distribution approximating a Gaussian bell curve, whose apex is 100. That means that the average IQ of the human population is 100, and there are people above and below that average. Fortunately, most graduate programs' entrance requirements filter out those who may not be intellectually equipped for the task.

So, basically the first factor is pretty much the important factor. Because I believe that if there is motive, then there will be means. If you want something really bad, then you'll find a way to get it.

The other day, in lab meeting, the lab director was telling us how hard it is for an entry-level Assistant Professor to get established in the job. One needs to do research, so that one can get tenure later; one needs to set up one's lab according to what he really needs; one needs to market himself so that he can attract good graduate students; one also has professional obligations such as reviewing papers and being in organizing committees; and one needs to teach classes, who may or may not be in one's alley, but is forced by one's department to teach because one is lowest at the totem pole; and the list goes on and on. Pretty much, I am looking at a 60-80 full-time job.

But the funny thing is, somehow I realized that I don't mind that. The lab director was talking about prepping one of us to deliver her job talk (one member of the lab just graduated and now has three additional letters after her name) and how intense and stressful a job talk can be. And because of that, she wants her to deliver an internal talk first, which makes sense. A job talk is a stressful occasion: I've been to several ones, since there have been 2 searches in the department while I am here. Every member of the faculty asked severe grilling questions; basically, they were throwing shit at every candidate. And so we need to prep for that, so that when it comes to the actual job talk, it would seem that we get thrown shit at our faces every time and we are unfazed by it. And that might be stressful, but somehow I don't find that daunting enough to discourage me.

Wow, I think I just affirmed how much I want this thing. Now it's time to actually do something and stop procrastinating by writing this blog entry.

(Sacrificial Altar, from my Moray Series)


  1. I find a lot of people drop out school in North America. It surprised me when I first came. Of course, to some, education cost is a heavy burden and if you are offered a job, may as well jump on the chance.

  2. Zhu,

    Yes, I agree. To some, the offer of a paying job is more important than the prestige that a PhD would get. And yes, there are varying circumstances as well. If one needs the money right away then might as well quit the program and start earning money.