Polity by Rob Salmond

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Polity: Hidden Costs

17 Responses

  • bob daktari,

    I think depression stalks us all, especially given we only celebrate our winners and achievers - of which few of us can hope or aspire to be

    Anyone that follows their heart or passion will at some point be confronted by their own self...

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 540 posts Report Reply

  • Ianmac,

    "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."

    Sadly that comparison is rife in schools nowadays. And the rewards, certificates, cups re-enforce the image of "loser." Also promotes the lower willingness to risk failure. "Play it safe rather than explore new directions."

    Bleneim • Since Aug 2008 • 135 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    It's a characteristic of a sifting system. Fortunately, in NZ, we still have mostly non-selective schools and universities, and a criterion-referenced assessment system, so the sifting mostly comes in at the post-undergraduate stage.

    In Britain, they have ranked, selective universities and an increasing number of selective schools => which result, obviously, in the vast majority of the population seeing themselves as some sort of failure. I think that explains a lot about their general attitudes and national mental health.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Donald Matheson,

    I've supervised PhD or so 20 students and, almost universally, they have dark moments like those you're talking about. A big part of the supervision job is support – getting people to design meaningful goals, to pace themselves and to look after themselves. We are better at that than in the past and - in my corner at least - we don't enrol PhD students that we don't think can get academic or similar jobs at the end of it. Really important we talk about all this, so thanks for the post.

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2007 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • JWT1,

    My experience in the sciences is that most academics, both in NZ and overseas, need PhD students as pairs of hands to carry out much of the the research to advance their own careers. All right if they a) are reasonably stringent in their assessment of the students they accept into their lab and b) are prepared to bite the bullet and tell those that are not making it that they should quit before wasting to much time.

    Many Universities have a hurdle that the students have to clear at the end of their first year of PhD studies which helps as long as those involved involved make sure that the hurdle is of sufficient height. Some academics however will persist with a less able student but treat them as a technician and essentially tell them what to do on a daily or weekly basis. This is not what a PhD is about.

    After 3 or 4 years or longer there is a lot of pressure, both subtle and otherwise, to ‘get these students through’., This is exacerbated by the present policy of paying a substantial part of the grant to the academic dept for a PhD student only on successful completion of the degree.

    I have seen many students who are not in the top rank end up in the overseas ‘permanent post doctoral position’, unable to get a suitable permanent position back in NZ or overseas. I have also seen several very good students opt for an MSc. degree instead of a PhD and take jobs in NZ industry and do very well. This course of action means that they ‘have a life’ much sooner than if they do a PhD and usually get well paid and satisfying jobs in New Zealand.

    Manawatu • Since Aug 2010 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Kiwiiano,

    There seems to be a failure back at Secondary school level, students being encouraged into careers for which there will rarely be enough jobs for the graduates. Most of the medical and scientific disciplines would be included, the arts and fine arts ditto. It would seem that trades are far more likely, but even there the periodic booms and busts can catch a fresh-faced apprentice with the only option "would you like fries with that?"

    Of course, the real problem may be that the brave new world of the Neo-liberals never guaranteed a job for anyone, let alone a well-paying, secure one. They faded away 50 years ago.

    Thought in passing: does anyone produce an annual list of employment possibilities? Based on real checking, not delusions of Uni or Polytech administrators?

    ChCh • Since Nov 2006 • 46 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason,

    Thanks for the post Rob. I experienced one or two dark moments during my PhD studies, but perhaps not in the same category as those you describe. Overall those years were some of the most satisfying of my life; complete freedom to pursue ideas I was passionate about, unshackled by the need to secure big funding and almost no administrative responsibilities. We were both students, with two small children, and while financially poor, we were very rich in our mental lives. Uncertainty about the outcome commonly afflicts PhD candidates I suspect, and I was no exception in that regard, but a few joyous "aha" moments and steady progress provided sufficient motivation for me to keep going.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to JWT1,

    Many Universities have a hurdle that the students have to clear at the end of their first year of PhD studies which helps as long as those involved involved make sure that the hurdle is of sufficient height.

    PhD confirmation event. Hugely valuable.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 828 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Attachment

    ...does the endorphin rush of physical exertion
    help keep the beast at bay?

    PhD or PhysEd - the question itself exercises the mind....
    http://phdcomics.com/comics.php

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7947 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Is that a recipe for depression for the athletes as well as the nerds? Or does the endorphin rush of physical exertion help keep the beast at bay?

    Most athletes start by doing something they enjoy. There's a difference between digging into the fine print of late Roman empire latrines (few 5 year olds have that fascination), and "I like swimming" becoming "I like swimming... FOR AOTEAROA".

    Can go either way. For many athletes the relentless grind to perfection is exhausting physically and mentally, and at some point they snap. There are a lot of disabled former athletes around, and a slightly disturbing number who are not around.

    But the flip side is that athletic pursuits tend to be seasonal, so there's a "holiday" period every year, rather than after 3-10 years. That plus the endorphins,. plus the sheer fact that athletes have to go outside and run round in the sunshine helps a lot. I found that while studying my mental state did depend on riding my bike, and quite strongly so. But by the time I started my master's I had a system fairly well worked out, part time work, part time organised social stuff, ride my bike for transport.

    Also, can I point out that "former PhD student who dropped out" still has an undergrad qualification and is rarely disabled as a result of attempting the PhD. There are lots and lots of wanna-be athletes who failed because their body gave out, permanently. So not only have they spent 10-dd years of their life not getting a qualification or any useful experience, they normally have private debt and no assets. I have one friend who made the news when the bunch she was training in got taken out by a car. She came back unable to run or ride, needing ongoing physio, and with about $50,000 in debt (a fair chunk of that was credit card debt).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1232 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Also, even when people return having come second, they're normally expecting that. The whole "prepare, prepare, perform, recover" cycle happens at a fractal level, from "today I'm doing intervals, sprint to the lamppost gogogo" to "my career will be over by the time I'm 30", so most athletes get used to that progression. Kind of like studying for exams, but with the key difference that in order to, say, get to the Olympics, you have to have won enough competitions to get invited to train for selection, have been selected, then gone. Plus you have trainers, teammates and media attention. Combination of better social support, and more experience of winning.

    That stuff is more like being a Rhodes Scholar than a run-of-the-mill PhD student. Even if you're just off to Battle Mountain for a week of riding bikes fast, like this guy I know.

    That said, I work with a guy who is the forth fastest in Australia, in his main event. He's still in Sydney. But he's not moping, even though this year was probably his last chance to make the Australia swim team.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1232 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    I wonder whether there is a gender aspect to this? A group of us (mostly 'mature' students) met together regularly while doing our PhDs. Even though our topics were very different we had similar issues with supervision, prioritising, writing etc and we supported and encouraged each other.

    But for me the PhD was the one time when I had a real job (funded by a scholarship). For three years I had secure funding and was doing something - 'writing a PhD' - which was socially and academically valued, and was an occupation people understood. I also never got bored with my topic so the 24/7 aspect of it was OK. You are allowed to be obsessed.

    It was a little oasis in a lifetime of part time jobs, insecure contracts, parenting (much of it on my own) and disability activism. Didn't lead to any work afterwards, though and now I have the same answer as before when people ask what I do ie 'bits and pieces'. I look back on those years with pleasure.

    I was just lucky I guess.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3218 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    Permanent head Damage.

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    There are, of course, lots of other endeavours that have the same dynamic – a lonely pursuit of a glittering prize that ultimately most fail to win.

    For me it wasn't the pursuit of a PhD but getting a degree, full stop. My folks had invested so much getting me to university, no matter what it took. At the time they thought anything less than a degree was for losers, to my detriment.

    Now, I've probably used up my lifetime EFTS limit (thanks a million, Prostetnic Vogon Joyce) and I can't risk another bad tertiary education investment, so on-the-job training is my best bet now. That is, if there's still a company out there that doesn't dismiss it as some kind of 'Old Labour' relic.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5433 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    on-the-job training is my best bet now. That is, if there's still a company out there that doesn't dismiss it as some kind of 'Old Labour' relic.

    Too many NZ industries have got used to the idea that training is the state's responsibility, not theirs. Same with research. Too much corporate welfare dependency.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19728 posts Report Reply

  • mpledger,

    Too many industries think the govt should be importing immigrants to meed their labour needs rather than training their staff too.

    Hair dressing as a skilled immigrant class is depressing.

    Since Oct 2012 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to mpledger,

    Too many industries think the govt should be importing immigrants to meed their labour needs rather than training their staff too.

    Hair dressing as a skilled immigrant class is depressing.

    In Britain, the "Polish plumber" stereotype has been attributed as a big factor in the Brexit vote. And Donald Trump has shamelessly cashed in on similar discontent in the States. In both cases, it's more about opportunistic divide-and-rule rather than any coherent plan to boost investment in skills.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5433 posts Report Reply

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