What a couple of days.
I’ve been faced with some life-altering decisions lately, which I avoid as a general rule. Not the least of these was my education. For those keeping score, I earned my undergrad degrees from SIUE, the Harvard of Madison county. Unfortunately, it’s well established that a masters degree is the new bachelors, so grad school seemed like a logical step at this particular time in my life.
Last week I had the chance to visit the University of Illinois Champain-Urbana, whose lengthy name must have worn out thousands of keyboards over the years. Let’s call it UIUC.
My goal was to learn whatever I could about the Linguistics Dept. Burning questions, such as wtf is phonology? and How many villas can I afford on a linguists salary? were going to be answered. I arranged some meetings with staff & students, but my visit was mostly improvised.
And I had a good time. On Thursday,I interrogated several students about their experiences, and what I heard was mostly good. Shoutout to Karen L., who showed me around and sold me a schweet travel mug.
Then there was an earthquake. I wouldn’t have noticed at all, were it not for the subsequent pre-dawn phone call from Ape. I went to a couple of Linguistics classes post-quake, met some faculty, attended a Linguistics Student Organization meeting (perhaps the first of many?), and stopped by the Champaign Public Library, whose new building is impressive but a little to vast & imposing for my taste. Libraries should be cozy and fun, after all.
On the way home I had lots of time to think. When my car wasn’t being damn near blown off the road by a strong southern wind, I reflected on what my life would be like if I studied Linguistics. I know that the education at UIUC would be stimulating, and that I would probably reach intellectual nirvana, if I didn’t wig out from all the work. That part doesn’t really worry me too much. Then I thought about my career. If I studied computational linguistics, I’d spend much of my life programming, perhaps developing better translation software (a goal worth fighting for). If I studied historical linguistics, I’d become an academic.
There’s something unsettling about the cycle you fall into in academia. You go to school for years and years to study a science/art, then you spend even more years teaching it to younger people, a number of whom will go on to teach it to even younger people. This cycle is only punctuated by your research, which may or may not be of use to anyone.
Aside from that, academia is vulnerable to vicious in-fighting, gossip, politics, and yes, even outright bitchiness. I realize that it’s endemic to all professions, but I’d like to think that highly educated people would be able to rise above at least some of those things. Politiking seems especially bad among faculty; maybe their education makes it worse.
In any case, I’m not sure it’s what I want to do. There are different paths I could follow outside of Grad school that would be similarly fulfilling, if I could only decided which one is right for me.
I did have to make one hard decision this week, which was made worse by the fact that it affects more people than just myself. I don’t know yet if it’s the right one.