Will King: The Fun of Being a Grad Student

 “What is it like,” asked the robotic grad student in his robotic voice, “what is it like to have fun?” The grad student had stopped enjoying research on his quest to become a science machine.

There are times when fieldwork fun is Type I...
That robot is not me—we lack the cyborg technology, and overall I’m enjoying my grad school experience—but just to be safe I reflected on the things I'm doing to get a PhD. I did a quick exercise to answer the question: How are the things I do as a grad student fun?

and times when it's Type II.
I categorized my graduate activities as Type I fun, Type II fun, or no fun at all. Have you heard of these categories? Type I fun we enjoy in the moment. Nerf gun fights, singing in the car, and indulgent napping are things I put in this category. Type II fun sucks at the time but is enjoyable in retrospect. For example, that time my brother and I dared each other to eat stupid amounts of wasabi.

To answer my question I came up with a list of 36 graduate student activities, categorized them, and tallied up the number of activities in each category. For simplicity each activity could belong to only one category. Since it seems like my efforts in grad school bring gratification months after the fact, I expected most of my activities to be Type II fun.

Turns out I actually do equal numbers of Type I and II activities and only a few activities that just plain suck (16-16-4). Activities involving social interaction tended to be Type I (“discussing papers”, “doing outreach”) while things I did alone tended to be Type II (“writing grants”). This analysis didn’t account for how much time I spend doing each activity, but I still find the results encouraging. Getting a PhD isn’t all work-now-play-later. We don’t have to turn into robots; we can be human and still be productive and by gosh maybe even graduate someday.


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