Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts On Entering Graduate School And “Escaping The Real World”

I’m about to enter graduate school this fall. I am going for my masters in psychology, which I hope to act as a steppingstone toward my acceptance in a PhD program in social-cognitive psychology, perhaps with a specialty in human evolution. Some feel that the choice of a PhD is an alternative to life in the “real world”. A life outside of direct concern for markets and finance. An idle life of contemplation, not bothered by the worries of ordinary reality. Some might say an escape. 

With that said, my career goals are not exactly clear for most outside of academia. Most upon hearing my choice of study immediately begin to ask me to evaluate and diagnose some person they know, who is alleged to be anything from slightly odd to completely insane. I usually try to cheerfully tell them I’m not going to work in the mental health field. That ordinarily sparks the question of what I actually do then. I then explain I’m more of a scientist/researcher and not a medical professional; I would mainly conduct experiments or research and write papers on them. 

Most have no idea that this is what many in the field of psychology do; its not all mental health. Part of the reason for this ignorance is that our society is driven by market economics. If the job is not either high paying or in high demand, its not seen as too important. Increasing GDP is the name of the economic game. 

I once had a conversation with a graduate student while I was an undergrad about entering graduate school. He told me that most feel that the choice is one of leaving the “real world” of practicality and entering, to put it lamely, a fantasy. I snapped at him and questioned if a person acting as a paper pusher or corporate lackey bent on increasing GDP in an environmentally unsustainable way is better then what we are trying to do: then discovering the dynamics of human behavior for the benefit of others? Of furthering understanding of our nature and actions towards others? Of helping others come to know their situation in more optimal ways? This is lower then being a middle manager at a pen company? Or an administrator at a corporate firm? I told him that is nonsense, and that the people who have that opinion are brainwashed by a consumerist media bent on keeping them entranced by a never ending shit-stream of useless novelty products clogging up the worlds landfills, and enslaving the 3rd world to make it for them. I told him that what we do is not insignificant but to the contrary quite important. But not to get full of our selves, we are reminded that what we do is to ultimately to serve all of humanity. After I strongly explained this to him, he seemed agree, perhaps out of fear because of my stern tone.      

Graduate school is a difficult and noble goal to purse in one life. If you consider this path, do not let anyone convince you that you are escaping into an irrelevant part of life. Rather you are going deeper into it all, and discovering new aspects of reality; this is no evasion of reality, not the slightest.