When I was interviewing for grad school two years ago, a professor asked what I wanted to do after grad school. I said I wanted to be a professor. Doesn’t everyone? To my surprise, he said that should never be my only reason to go to grad school. He explained, tenure-track faculty positions are hard to come by these days, so if you don’t truly enjoy the process of doing research, you’re not going to be happy in grad school.
So how do you know whether you enjoy research? I didn’t have a clear clue when I applied. I just knew that I liked working with my undergrad advisor and she liked me too. After one year in grad school, I have a much better idea now.
Ask yourself and be honest,
- Are there really burning questions that you crave to answer, or did you just happen to read about a bunch that you’re not terribly bored of?
- Do you routinely ask deep, insightful questions while reading papers, attending lectures, running experiments, analyzing data, talking to people, etc.?
- How does it feel like to read papers, design and debug your experiment (perhaps over and over), think about your data, and writing up the results? Does it feel like chores or are you truly exited?
- Do you enjoy learning new skills and knowledge under time pressure, such as programming, math, and stats, rather than shying away from it and sticking with what you already know?
- Can you stay motivated in the face of setbacks, loneliness, poverty, low job prospect, lack of structure or direction, and a lot more obstacles?
- Do you like promoting your work and collaborating with people? Do people love talking to you and want to work with you? Or is networking tortuous to you?
- Are you able to joggle with dozens of responsibilities without being a burn-out?
If you say “no” more than once or twice, do yourself a favor — DON’T GO!
Even if you always say “yes” at this moment, still make sure that there’s a career outside academia that you’ll be equally passionate about. It makes grad school a lot easier.