A brave new world: Why moving beyond university can precipitate crisis

As students approach the completion of their university education some are excited to enter the “Real World”. Others are in no rush to “move on” – perhaps out of fear or uncertainty about their future, anticipatory nostalgia, or a keen awareness of what a uniquely special time the university years are.

University really can be a tremendously special time. Thousands of energetic, big-dreaming, hormone-charged, young adults for whom alcohol and pot are still exciting new adventures, all living away from home for the first time. An intellectual commune housed in a mixture of historic and state of the art buildings where the only people over 30 are the professors. Pretty much everyone is in the same life stage: one of possibilities, ambition, learning about oneself, the world and one’s place within it. It’s understandable why some students are in no rush to move beyond this life stage.

All of this being said, it’s understandable why some students are eager to move beyond their school years. Most students nearing the completion of their university years have never not been students. Yes, most of them will have had several summer jobs, but these were mere intermissions in the student play that had been running for their entire lives.

They are ready for a change. They’re ready to not be broke anymore. They’re ready to no longer have homework. They’re ready to start building their own lives. They’re ready to close their last textbook, submit their last paper, hand in their last exam, and stare blankly at a boring professor for the last time. All of this is entirely valid.

It’s hard to fully appreciate or understanding something when it’s all you’ve ever known. In the weeks and months after graduation, lifelong students who had previously only dangled their feet off the dock take the plunge into a brave new world. The Real World. Some of them will struggle as they come to realize for the first time that despite having spent 2 decades in training, they apparently never became strong swimmers. What some of the same students who couldn’t wait to take the plunge would give to go back… Continue reading

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The Grad School Gospels – Part 5: The University Graduate Entitlement Complex

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

In this, the fifth installment of The Grad School Gospels, I’ll be changing things up a bit. Firstly, this installment will not touch on professional baseball or Dirk Hayhurst’s experience therein. Secondly, the subject matter will not be limited to graduate students, but to university graduates in general.

Before I launch into this latest installment of doom and gloom…

I’d like to begin on a positive note and also clear up some possible (and totally understandable) misconceptions that I may have fostered in writing The Grad School gospels series.

Firstly, I absolutely loved my university experience. During Orientation/Frosh Week in first year at the University of Toronto, I remember being told several times “These will be the greatest years of your life”. This wasn’t empty platitude. The university years can be absolutely tremendous. The purpose of The Grad School Gospels series is not to slander the academic and university worlds. I hold both in the absolute highest esteem. The purpose is to address some systemic problems and common misperceptions.

Secondly, I’m not sitting here venting because I’m miserable. I was once miserable. Suicidally so, as I discussed in Part 1 of the series. The sorts of negative experiences and themes I discuss in this series do not reflect my current situation. They reflect my situation of a few years ago, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have rebounded from.

High-Maintenance Entitled Bastards Who Think They’re Too Good For Their Job

genx-coverIn Generation X: Tales From an Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland spoke of a frustrating experience many managers were having with entry-level employees in the 80s and 90s. The fresh meat wasn’t as willingly falling in line the way their parents did. This wasn’t the case for all entry-level jobs. It was primarily an issue in jobs that were higher in drudgery, lower in status, and for which the path to advancement to more interesting, higher status jobs offering greater potential for personal and career development was less direct, clear, and near.

This new fleet, in aggregate, wasn’t as motivated with respect to its work. One might have interpreted this increasingly common attitude as one of self-entitlement.

I’m too smart and too interesting a person. I’m too good for this job. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 4: On Grad School Goggles and the Cult-Like Nature of Grad School

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

In this, the fourth, installment of The Grad School Gospels, I speak to how I – a person who had long prided himself on his advanced critical thinking and research abilities – could have fallen into what, for many, amounts to a Grad School Trap. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 3: Academe Can’t Be Your Everything

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

As with Part 2 – Passion, Fear and Indifference – the present installment was inspired by a set of quotes from Hayhurst. After a few disappointing seasons Dirk was having his best season in years. His pitching coach was curious as to how Dirk had made such a turn-around. Hayhurst ventured the following explanation (my edits bolded in parentheses):

“…I (formerly) put so much stock in what it meant to be a baseball player, I became afraid to fail at it. I’d be out of a job, and out of an identity. I thought I’d lose everything without it.”

“…I wasn’t able to get to this point (i.e., his recent success) until I was okay with the idea of baseball coming to an end.”

Analogous to Dirk, I put so much stock in what it meant to be an academic. I couldn’t afford to fail at it. If I did not eventually become a professor, I too would have lost everything. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 2: Passion, Fear and Indifference

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstIn The Grad School Gospels: On Professional Baseball, Academia, and My Shared Experience with Dirk Hayhurst, I juxtaposed Hayhurst‘s pro baseball journey – which he recounts in his first book, The Bullpen Gospels – with my journey through academic psychology.

Several factors conspired to make our situations alike. We both laid most of our eggs in one basket, deriving identity, strength, purpose, livelihood and self-esteem from a single source. We were accustomed to success, praise and the ability to live indefinitely off of success in our chosen field. For a while this worked out swimmingly. Intrinsic passion and well-fed appetites for success and praise made for well-oiled machines. To succeed, one needs drive. Few things are as motivating as having one’s livelihood, reason for living, identity and dignity all riding on one high risk, high reward gamble. But it wasn’t terrifying. It was mostly fun, because passion, success, praise and positive expectations ruled the day. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels: On Professional Baseball, Academia, and My Shared Experience with Dirk Hayhurst

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstIn The Bullpen Gospels, author and former professional baseball player, Dirk Hayhurst, takes readers through his lived experience in the cut-throat world of professional baseball. As I read Hayhurst’s story, I find myself impressed by his talent as a writer, sympathetic to his hardships as professional baseball player, and connected to him by analogous personal struggles.

A few years prior to returning to school in 2009 to train to be an occupational therapist, I was a research graduate student in Cognitive Psychology.  Back then, in many ways graduate school was for me what professional baseball was to Dirk. I was not alone.

The purpose of this post is to juxtapose excerpts of Hayhurst’s struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball with my prior struggles to build a life, self-esteem and respectability through the academic world. Continue reading

University Education: Why The Lack of Accountability?


I had the BEST day a few months ago! First, I went to the movies and the theatre decided to do the viewers a favour by stopping the movie twenty minutes early. SCORE! With all the extra time my friends and I had, we decided to go grab a beer. Well it must have been one of our birthdays or something because the bartender decided to fill our glasses only halfway! AMAZING! Why can’t everyday be like this? I wish that just once – JUST ONCE – I could get a nice sandwich maker at Subway who would brighten my day by only giving me 9 inches of the 12 inch sub I order… Alas, to live in a perfect world.

It’s not all bad, though. At least I and my fellow students are fortunate enough to have instructors who sometimes do us the favour of ending class early, canceling the odd lecture here and there, and maybe even going on strike (faculty at my school, the University of Western Ontario, are teetering on the brink of a walkout/lockout)! That last one is a rarity, but it’s one of those things where you just kind of feel good when it happens, even if it doesn’t happen at your school. It’s good to know that good things still happen, y’know?

This all sounds ridiculous, of course. If theatres started cutting movies short, or if a food/beverage establishment only gave you a portion of what you ordered and paid for, you wouldn’t be happy. You’d be shocked and rightfully pissed off. You did not get what you paid for and you’d have a good mind to ask for at least a partial refund.

Contrast this with the situation in university education, where paying students (including me) are apparently universally pleased to be let out of class early or have a class canceled, and are sometimes even welcoming of a short lived academic strike. Lets use a little bit of folk behavioural economics to speculate as to why so many students love to get less than what they paid for when it comes to school.

Continue reading