I received the following email from a former-graduate student:
A Former Graduate Student Speaks Out
I admire your mission. The subject of how I spent my life doing homework and what turned out to be worthless schooling is a subject I often cry and get angry about, but a past situation I would for one like to make up for, and also a situation that I would like to help others on. I am turning 30 now, and have a lot of living to catch up on and have wasted many of my best years.
Actually my grade school, middle school, and high school were mostly fairly run and had opportunities for the smart and driven students, but they forced students to do work whether they liked it or not. The harder courses were taught by efficient, inspired, and helpful teachers. The dumber courses were run like penitentiaries. I myself was a very smart and driven student, eager to get work done early.
The problem that I and most students faced was that doing our work better and faster only led to getting placed into harder courses that assigned even more work. There was no incentive to reach completion since we were like hamsters caught in a wheel. The faster we ran, the more the wheel turned. The dumber courses did not teach anything, but just wasted time, and assigned about the same amount of work- just dumber and more repetitive. Students who were non-compliant or who failed certain mandatory tests were forced into yet more schooling, summer classes, and force-fed education-–which we all feared.
The good thing is that I used my high school to place out of 35 college credits–through the advanced placement program, and earned full scholarships to college. The down side was that I was putting off living a normal life, believing the sacrifice would pay off.
Even with scholarships though, the work in college was grueling, while keeping the scholarships depended on maintaining stringent GPA requirements. I graduated with a degree in physics and minor in mathematics with a good GPA, but once again, I had put off living a normal life.
The beginning of the senior year in college, I realized there was not really any available employment with just a bachelor’s degree and so I was persuaded to take hard courses in order to get into graduate school. Being successful at them, I then went on to graduate school to be a research scientist, and did all the requirements of a master’s degree, but never finished my thesis since there was lack of funding for that field of research and I had realized that I was pursuing a dead-end career.
Since then, I’ve spent 5 of the last 6 years either unemployed or severely under-employed, all the while desperately looking for work. In spite of my immense knowledge, talent, and work ethic, my credentials and experiences were considered worthless. My former teachers only recommended more schooling to earn Masters and PHd’s–though many of their students were also unemployed and many deeply in debt from their schooling. None of the people I had spent so much time with and worked so hard for had any real leads at all to any employment, just more schooling. Even a dean of my undergraduate college said to me that “Education is nice to have, but it does not really matter. We just do whatever, anyway.”
At first I felt unfortunate, but then I felt betrayed. Among the jobs I had the last 6 years, I sold watches in the mall, folded shirts in a department store, washed dishes in a restaurant, cleaned toilets, and mopped floors at minimum wage to find work. I never imagined that my diligence would lead to that. Obviously, most of the recent jobs have not contributed anything to my resume or finances. The one good job I had was as an engineer’s assistant, but the position only lasted a year until we completed major projects. I thought I would find similar work soon, but all the companies I had found were either outsourcing or laying off their workers.
I would sure like to use my talents to earn a living wage, but for now, I am just doing a part-time government job which is just 20 hours a month and below $15 an hour. I have lived with my parents for the last 6 years and we are all very concerned since the economy has only gotten worse.
In some ways though, the past few years were a blessing to catch up on life, and to get to know my own family better–a few of them who only had a few more years left in them. I enjoy living myself, having nearly missed out on life, and I have been grateful to reclaim a life of my own.
And so, I say to everyone as a hard learned lesson: There is a world of difference between a mirage of promises and what is truly rewarding in life. Live lives of meaning and purpose and to thy own self be true.