Grad school rants are becoming a theme in the blogosphere.
Charlie Hoehn wrote a post this week about failing cheaply. When trying to figure out your dream job or project, you might fail. Better to fail cheaply – doing something you initiate on your own – than to pay a grad school $100,000 so you can fail with an egregious amount of school debt trailing you for the rest of your life.
Another blogger, Tim Grahl, also wrote about the wastefulness of advanced education.
I’ve even posted about this topic on Ask the Entrepreneurs, where the tech entrepreneur Bob Ippolito gives me reason to believe that entrepreneurs don’t need grad school.
This trend is because bloggers tend to be a very independent-spirited bunch; they’re the people who are doing exactly what Charlie suggests – sticking their necks out every day or week to share their thoughts and work in a public forum.
It doesn’t mean we all hate education institutions, but it does mean that we don’t think they should be a crutch to help you hobble along till you figure out what you really want to do with your life.
I was a history major at Stanford (SUPER non-vocational major), loved it, and don’t regret a single class or dollar.
For me, college (and my history courseload):
– provided me with the structure I needed to learn things that changed my paradigms. Most people will fail as autodidacts, no matter how many libraries surround them.
– taught me ANALYSIS much more than facts. It shaped my thinking in a way that no amount of years in Silicon Valley, corporate or startup, ever could.
– made learning FUN and gave me the opportunity to meet other people who felt the same way – that education was not only vocational but also artful. The kids from my public high school never gave me the sense of thrill and shared wonderment that my peers in college did.
– endowed me with a brand and social affiliation that I’ve used countless times, to open as many doors, since graduating.
That said, my take is that people should never start an education – college or grad school – thinking that it’s going to be their golden ticket out of [fill in the blank].
To me learning – from great professors, from other thoughtful students, and from the experiences that are available exclusively in the setting of an education institution – was its own joy.
But there was PLENTY of stuff that I never learned at Stanford.
Stuff I NEVER learned at Stanford (but that ended up being really important in my life):
– how to write and connect with others through words in a way that’s not selfish, boring or trite (still working on this life lesson)
– how to sell things: myself, my skills, my ideas, other people I care about, products or services that I represent
– how to be concise
– how to think outside a normalized structure and come up with solutions to unarticulated, real life problems (like how to handle life as a corporate drone, how to manage ‘up,’ how to deal with losing your job, or transitioning to a new one)
– what I really wanted to do with my life
– how to fail, and be ok with it (At Stanford, there’s a metaphor that the students are like ducks on a pond – calm-looking as they float along, but staying afloat by frantic, invisible paddling beneath the water’s surface. Actually, I think ducks are way better at this than college students.)
It would’ve been a royal mistake if I’d gone to school to try to answer those questions and, four years later, had learned these lessons instead….
Stuff I learned at Stanford (that was really fun):
– How to analyze the history of South African apartheid from a Foucaultian perspective
– How to understand Chinese footbinding as an economic practice
– How to write a persuasive short story – in French, in Spanish, and (almost but not quite) in Mandarin
– How Darwin figured out the science behind natural selection from observing Galapagos finches
– How to search for life elsewhere in the solar system
and lots more.
Like most people, I still have lots of questions in my life. I don’t expect another degree to answer them for me, or to entitle me to my dream job, or to make me into anything more than I am all on my own.
As Charlie writes, if you want to try for a dream, fail cheaply first. Later, when your many small, low-risk failures have helped you to figure some stuff out, you’ll be all set to succeed really, really big.