Am I sabotaging my academic career by dating a guy with no degree; or, how is Academia like Reality TV? However, we have one big difference: He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher.
They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? Do you or your readers have experience dating with education discrepancies?
Are my fears as unfounded as I hope? What can I say if people get all judgy about his choice of career? I really debated whether to publish your letter.
In answer to your questions: You asked for anecdata, so here is some. I have a terminal degree, my boyfriend has some college but not a degree. It affects my career not at all and us socially not at all.
My mom has an advanced degree, my dad has a certificate from a technical college. It affected them not at all. I can think of zero relationships among my peers where having a degree vs. There can be a lot of expense, discontent, jealousy, immigration issues, loss of career momentum, and other giant, real hassles in dual-career relationships. Your judgy out-of-town friends need to, pardon my French, fuck the hell off on this topic.
What the hell is wrong with you? Your peers, at these nightmare hellscape parties where apparently people can only trumpet their stellar accomplishments, would probably describe themselves as very informed, logical, and open-minded people.
Why then are they so ignorant about and dismissive of any life path that is not the exact same as theirs? This is totally normal and healthy, right? Nothing weird or humiliating going on here at all. It does not care about your health. It cares about your usefulness and your results. It cares about your productivity. It cares about finding the smallest amount of money and support that you will settle for.
Sometimes it will give you asshole old man advice about how you should live your life and conform to its expectations. You need someone who loves you, for you, who roots for your success, who supports you emotionally when the going gets tough, who excites and challenges you, who would care about you even if you failed at science. For centuries, academic superstars were men.
They could thrive in their careers partly because they had wives, who maybe worked outside the home at some job, but who poured a ton time and energy into supporting them while they did their intense manly intellectual work. The ones who bought me dinner and groceries when my financial aid took 14 weeks of a week semester to come through.
The ones who helped out on all my film sets, lent me their houses and cars as locations. The ones who had parties where I could talk about NOT grad school. Sometimes what you need from your day is not to discuss the finer points of research methods or the three-act-structure one more time, but to talk with people who have completely different stuff going on than you do.
Grad school is not there for you on this. Keep your eyes on the prize! You can worry about stuff like being happy later. Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task.
Graduate school can operate a lot like a reality dating show, in that it thrives on Stockholm Syndrome, and you actually have to fight to keep your own sense of what is important amid the absurdity. Reality dating shows isolate their contestants, moving them away from everyone they love and imprisoning them in a big house with only other contestants. Everyone has the same goal and the same focus, and there is no down-time or escape — you must always be thinking about the Bachelor or the Rock or the Flavor of the Love and how to win them over.
No pets, no books, no distractions. You associate only with people who are on the show. I think it would happen way more if the contestants lived at home with their dogs or cats and saw their actual real-life friends once in a while.
Imagine living like that for years the average window to complete a PhD depending on your field and institution. In the article I linked up thread by Sarah Kendzior, she writes about the decision to have a baby during grad school: The greatest threat to getting an academic job is not a baby.
It is the disappearance of academic jobs. Telling women in any career what they should do with their body is always a sexist, demeaning trick. But in a Ph. I know a few women who hurt their academic careers by having a baby.
This is not the fault of the women, but the fault of a system which penalizes women for being mothers. But I know far more people—men and women—whose lives were derailed because they sacrificed what was most important to them for an academic career that never materialized.
So should you have a baby in graduate school? I do not know. I am not you. I know nothing about your life. I know nothing about your goals, desires, finances, health or family situation. In other words, I am in the same position as your advisor, your colleagues, and everyone else who will judge your intensely personal decision. Some of these people may be authority figures, but authority figures do not have authority when it comes to your body and your family.
Wait until you submit your dissertation. Wait until you defend. Wait until you find out where you are going to work. But you are a real scientist now. I know this because you are doing science with your days. You can go to school and be a scientist and have love without living in the Rock of Science Brainwashing house. So the best advice I can give you is: You would do this in your research, so start doing it in your life.
Where is this even coming from? Is this comment about something related to my work? Is this person speaking from authority or experience, or just projecting?
Where is the evidence for their point of view? Does this person really have my best interests at heart or are they just enforcing the status quo? Is this coming from a competitor or a supporter? Does that consequence matter to me? Is this what I do think or just what I think I should think? If I followed this suggestion, would I be happier? You have a therapist as a sounding board to work through questions like that, which, good. Please also do what you can to find friends from all ages and walks of life who also want to talk about Starcraft or stuff you are interested in at their non-competitive, actually fun parties.
Make time every week to exercise, cook, read for pleasure, knit, watch your favorite TV show, have lots of hot sex with your hot boyfriend, go to therapy, go to the doctor when you get sick — do whatever it takes to feel like yourself and feel grounded in your body and your life. In an intense grad program sometimes every moment of happiness you can steal back for yourself while still doing your work is a victory. In the meantime, being good at what you do and happy as you are is one hell of a snappy comeback for the haters.