turns out academia is a crock

i think this is the last post in what has evolved into a four-part alain de botton series (at least until i read one of his books). alain was responding to a question (starts around 6:30) about why he dropped out of his phd program and he shared this thought:

“Like many young people with a kind of cultural and aesthetic interests, I imagine that academia was going to be nirvana because these guys were gonna pay you to do the stuff that was lovely to do anyway: reading books, writing, et cetera. And then I quickly realized there was a mass deception going on and that academia had gotten together collectively to try and make this supposedly lovely thing as unpleasant as possible simply because they had a problem with massive oversubscription. So the way they dealt with the oversubscription was to make you jump through so many hoops and make those hoops so unpleasant that only the most determined survive.”

as he said it, my mouth dropped open. during grad school i had started to realize the same thing. not only was getting a master’s degree more of a sham than i expected, i had started to notice some terrible patterns among the phd candidates.

i went to the same school (mit) for undergrad and grad school so i got to know more people than the average student. i spanned the undergrad/grad divide and was there over the course of seven years. and what i observed was pretty sad. almost all of the master’s students realized that writing their master’s thesis was more of a chore than a joy. they found that in order to “contribute to the body of knowledge,” they had to dissect and shoehorn the subject in which they were interested into this terrible place between existing knowledge. and then they weren’t given enough time or support to usually produce a good product anyways.

and for the phd’s it was worse. because they had more time, sometimes they got to write about what they actually wanted. but not always. and many of them realized that the deeper they got into it, the less they wanted to be subject matter expert at this tiny little slice of the world. of course, they didn’t enter academia to do that anyways, but that’s the path that had been laid out (see above quote) in order to land an academic job. not only that, but the writing process was isolating and the academic journal publishing process was grueling.

so what’s my takeaway? fuck academia.