There is no denying it: graduate school is a huge commitment. For those outside of academia, they might not understand the cultural world of it... leading to a few misunderstandings!
As a PhD student, I am clearly in the academia world. My partner is not. Here's what we learned alongside my degree...
graduate school is not like your regular job
Since my school was across the country, we didn't get to live together for years (and we still don't, until I finish my degree) even though in any other regular LDR we probably would've by this point.
Research takes a lot of time. Expect to spend months, if not years, on a single project. While PhD's here in Australia are supposed to take a total of three years, they can go for even longer (sometimes eight years). Of course this means that the amount of time we spent together dropped... substantially. And any time I wasn't physically in school, I was usually reading articles to stay up-to-date.
A PhD is demanding intellectually as well as emotionally and physically. It led to a really unhealthy work-life balance, and being with C reminded me there is an "outside world." While you can have an unhealthy balance with any job, I think graduate school is especially bad. So C reminding me to eat healthy, exercise, meditate, and have an active social life (volunteer, community events, visit family and friends, host parties) really helps.
The culture is different
C is in the business world and he learned very quickly that his world and mine are NOT the same. Which, as someone who is a big helper, really rubs him the wrong way. "I can’t apply business knowledge to the academic world," he said, which means he sometimes couldn't give me advice even though he really wanted to. The problems, the personalities, the solutions... were all different.
In a PhD, the researcher must define their own research agenda and goals; in the business world, you usually get told what those goals are (unless you're a big honcho). Since academics don't really get a roadmap, the work is mostly self driven and sometimes can be quiet isolating. Expect to work independently and feel pressure to produce more and more and more (pro tip: produce quality, not quantity).
But there are similarities! Like in the business world, you should focus on being better than your past self, not anyone else. Improve on what you previously put out, rather than outdoing someone else’s. And don't forget: collaboration can be crucial in both worls, so socialising and networking is critical to one's success.
The failure is different
In both worlds, we experience failure and frustration... but the types are quite different even though both end up with us learning from them.
While C will inevitably have to deal with hard clients and colleagues, vague directions, and failed projects, I have paper rejections, grant rejections, lack of research ideas, and failed experiments in my line of work. One thing I've learned in my years of doing my PhD is that I will experience far more lows then highs while doing the dang thing.
C can relate - we both face imposter syndrome, criticism about our work, self doubt, etc. Thankfully, we aren't alone in that! Every industry has those issues.
What my non-academic partner also learned
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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