Saturday, March 14, 2009

Life outside of grad school

I sometimes forget what it is like to be around people who are not in grad school. I'm so used to being around people who understand everything that the two words "grad school" entails that when I am in a situation with people who have "real jobs," I am forced to quickly remember the fact that there is more to life than school. Conversations start with where you're from and what you do, but then they move on to where you currently live, what you like to do, what you like about the City, current events, etc. etc. Conversation doesn't get stuck at 'what you do' and go off on a tangent related to classes, research, homework, etc. People have hobbies and interests and that is what gets talked about. When you're in grad school, hobbies and interests are largely around research and school work. But that would put you in the minority in most cases.

Of course, you're still interesting to those who don't hear about grad school and/or psychology ALL THE TIME, so they ask questions and chat you up about your field, applications of psychology, etc. So it rarely comes across as "I have nothing interesting to talk about besides school" (even if that's how I feel sometimes). Instead you talk about things that you and all your friends have become bored with hearing about, but are new to this particular audience. And often, they have their own ideas to contribute. See, that's the great thing about psychology -- especially child psychology. Everyone knows a child and has been a child. Sometimes it's annoying for psychologists who know the research to hear the 'layperson's' opinion based solely on anecdotal evidence, but I find it fascinating to see what people "on the ground" have to say about all this stuff we discuss from an academic perspective. (I also find it challenging at times not to seem like a know-it-all by providing an answer to every thought that the person presents!)

The former realization provides me with both positive and negative reactions.

1) We are, in fact, just as wrapped up in academia and our tall ivory towers as we think we are. Talking to people in the real world almost always reminds me of this. From terms we use to discuss topics to the beliefs we hold about said topics, it often becomes clear that this is based mostly on The Data and to a much lesser degree on Actual Children.

2) We are much more knowledgeable than we give ourselves credit for. Being surrounded by 40+ other people who are on the same path to a PhD in child psychology often makes us lose sight of our own abilities and incredible knowledge. But the fact is, in the general population -- what it is, something like 1% of people -- have a PhD. By virtue of being on our way to this higher degree, we are also experts of sorts. Whether we think so or not, that is how a lot of people will view us when they hear we are getting a PhD in psychology.

So, nutshell: It's grounding, in a lot of ways, to step outside of the World of Academia... even for a couple of hours. Yes, there IS more to life than school. But we are also learning a hell of a lot more than the average person knows about the subject that we are pouring hours, days, and years into. And that counts for something. Even if we find it hard to recognize and remember that sometimes!

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