Should Graduate School Be Rewarding?

This post started as an expression of frustration and subsequent discussion between my wife, who is also a graduate student, and myself.  The basic question: Should graduate school be rewarding?

After the discussion, I’ve boiled it down the three basic answers to this question:

  1. Yes, but only after you’ve completed your degree.  The rewards come later.
  2. Yes, on a daily basis.  It is a time to explore ideas and concepts that you find rewarding and engaging.
  3. No.  It is supposed to be hard, boring, not fun, and a drag.  That’s the point.

My wife finds herself squarely in camp #1.  I, on the other hand, am more of a camp #2 person (rewarding on a daily basis).  Others, like the Annoyed Librarian, are in camp #3.

Does my feeling that graduate school should be rewarding on a daily basis stem from an enlarged sense of entitlement?  Or am I right in feeling this way?

Hear me out: graduate school is optional.  Moreover, it’s expensive, and an enormous commitment.  Why would anyone do something that is both expensive and likely requires them to move their entire lives, give up stable jobs, connections in other communities, and untold other sacrifices to engage in a process that is not rewarding?

To me, simply being “worth it in the long run” is not a good enough reason (things like going to the gym aside – let’s be realistic, here).  Two years, ~$70,000, and the lost opportunity costs are a high bar that needs to be met to engage in the process.  It’s not for everyone, and even for those who it is right for, the timing is not always there.

That being said, there’s a bit of a trick to the whole process.  Once you start, you really can’t stop, even if it ceases to be rewarding on a daily basis.  I have now found myself in this situation.  I know I’m not the only one having a rough semester, but I also feel that if an activity is not rewarding to me, does not enhance and enrich my life, then I should cease to participate and instead engage in something that is rewarding and enriching.

Only, I can’t.  I’m too far down this path to quit now, and must instead attempt to rectify my sour attitude for the remaining weeks of the semester.  Perhaps this is a good life lesson, that you can’t always have it your way (it’s not BK), and some things you must suffer through.

So, fair readers, what do you think?  Share any experiences in the comments.

Hopefully the time goes quickly.


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