It’s now been two years since I walked across the stage, shook the administrators’ hands, and received my doctorate degree. I remember thinking, “Yes, I did it!” Things were looking up for me, I had a job lined up, I was a new mom, and finally free from school and all the unpleasant things associated with it (like sitting in seminar meetings). Two years later, I have a much different perspective than I did back then. Below, I’ve outlined nine things that I miss about being in grad school. If you're in grad school, my advice is be grateful for what you've got while it lasts.
The Familiarity of School
My husband thinks that I have some form of Stockholm’s syndrome, but I really do miss school. Ever since I was 5 years old, I have been a student, studying for something. I went straight from college to a PhD program. Then all of a sudden I graduated—for good. I felt like a lost puppy roaming the streets—no tests, deadlines, or professors shaping my day-to-day decisions. It was (and still is) a very strange feeling, quite honestly.
In grad school, new semesters entailed anticipation of new research ideas or courses that I had never taken before. When I graduated, next semester involved just trying to keep one lecture ahead of my students. Initially, I thought I could sit in on some of my colleague’s courses. You know, those courses that you never got a chance to take because you were so wrapped up in your own field? As I quickly learned, teaching full-time put an end to those dreams…there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.
I know you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone a little too far here, but when I was in graduate school, I actually had time to do whatever I wanted to do. It wasn’t very often, but it happened a lot more frequently than it does now. Unfortunately, I cannot tease apart the effects of working full-time with being a mom (I had my daughter a month before I graduated). However, be that as it may, I remember the good ‘ol days when I could plop down on the couch after a rough day and just relax.
I’m not going to lie; it was pretty rough changing campuses after graduation. But a lot of campuses are downgrades compared to my graduate institution. I miss walking around on campus and seeing how the seasons affected the scenery. Our rec center was amazing, too. Although springtime was the prettiest, the summers were perfect (because undergrads were on break).
I vaguely remember thinking to myself during the abstract submission process for conferences, “Hmm…glad I’m not a ‘professional’ member.” Now I am painfully aware of just how much money I saved being a student. It wasn’t just membership fees. Software, technology purchases, public transportation fees, restaurant orders, and even clothes can be purchased at discounts by simply showing your student ID.
Dress Code (or Lack Thereof)
I miss the good times when I could roll out of bed and go to campus. I could show up to school in work-out clothes—no problem. No one cared or thought otherwise. Now that I’m a professional, a few eyebrows would be raised if I showed up to work wearing tennis shoes. Sure there are those professors who wear a t-shirt and jeans to class, but it’s hard to have students take you seriously as a new faculty member when you dress more poorly than they do.
Safety to Succeed or Fail
Being a graduate student offered some protection to fail. It’s expected that graduate students are still learning the ropes and, therefore, won’t get it right every time. Obviously the goal is to succeed, but I felt like my string of failed studies wasn’t the end of the world. Now, if I make a string of failed attempts, my job could be on the line.
Having Experts Around in my Field
As a graduate student, I was trained by faculty in the department who had much more knowledge, training, and experiences than I did. If I got stuck or needed help, I had plenty of people to choose from who could help me. Now that I’ve graduated, I am the resident expert. People come to me for help and guidance. Luckily I’ve got a lot of knowledgeable co-workers currently, but it’s still a pretty lonely feeling to know that I can’t stroll over to my professor’s office and ask for her opinion.
Unexplored Learning Opportunities
This is probably the thing that I miss the most about grad school. Call me a sucker, but I miss the ability to learn about new things, ask new questions, and build upon existing knowledge in my field. I felt like I was doing detective work when it came to publishing papers. I wanted to rule out alternative explanations and build the strongest case for my research. Now, my opportunities to learn are tempered with other responsibilities that take precedence. I loved how learning about my field was the #1 goal when I was a student.