Sunday, October 2, 2011

Two Extremes (as usual) in Education

As I go from adviser to adviser at UT as well as BYU, I seem to get two theories of the PhD (and education in general): either you jump through the hoops and get it over with or else you take joy in the journey and let your ideas build and ferment. In economic terms, the first embraces the Spense signaling theory, which declares that getting degrees and letters after our names is just a way of demonstrating WHO we already are (smarty pants), while the latter suggests that education is an accumulation of human capital--you're actually learning something you couldn't have gotten somewhere else. If I buy into the former, I need to graduate as soon as possible, under the bar, to prove myself and then just rush into the career I've been long prepared for. If I buy into the latter, I should take my time.

For a long time I was a "long, steady and intense" kind of girl. 18 credit hours a semester. Three semesters a year. I was 3 classes away from a 2nd major in economics and 2 away from a minor in film when I graduated. I took classes for fun. I scoffed at people who wanted to get GE's "out of the way" and graduate early. But now that I'm in grad school, I can see the appeal of wanting to finish--I want to apply for jobs. I want to have a career, not just be a perceptual student, doing essentially the same thing I've been doing for ten years (see my post of being unsettled). Also, I realize how much I've learned to teach myself. Some things, like learning Latin or statistics, are bone-crushing to try to do without deadlines and a teacher/tutor, but many things, like reading books in the field, thinking and talking about them, can take place if not on my own, then at least outside the classroom with similarly-minded people. I know how to learn.

The problem is,then, that I have advisers on both extremes on my field exam committee. So am I trying to get to my prospectus as soon as possible or letting my ideas slow-cook? I don't know. I do know that curiosity is my greatest academic virtue while diligence and consistence are my greatest failings. What do I do NOW to balance these? I don't just want to graduate, but I want to graduate prepared.


Makayla said...

My vote? Do the best you can in your classes, and take them at a perhaps a little more than steady pace, and get it over with. Insofar as I can tell, academic life is just graduate school on steriods, only they pay you better. :)

Margaret said...

Listen, school is just a lot of fun. You have lots of free time, lots of people who are your age and stage of life. In grad school your teachers are more interested in talking to you as an equal, but you don't have the same kinds of pressures as when you have a job. If you want to skip class and spend that time reading - no big deal!

That being said, I think it being fun is the only real reason to stay in school. Learning is a continual process, especially if you're in academia. Plus, you get money when you have a job - I'll be honest, it was pretty amazing when I realized how much awesomeness money could buy.