Advice to Youngsters

I was a total fanatic when I was an undergraduate student. If a professor mentioned a book, even in the context of “book X by critic YZ is worthless”, I immediately dashed off to check book X out of the library and read it. I counted down the days of each break because I couldn’t wait to get back to class. I once left a New Year’s celebration because I had a textbook on medieval literature waiting for me. Nobody had assigned it. I was reading it for fun. I read Juan Rulfo’s novel Pedro Páramo three times in a row without even looking at the translation until I somewhat understood it (this was less than 2 months after I began to learn Spanish). 

And I loved every second of all of the above.

If you don’t feel this way about your field, please reconsider doing a PhD in it. 


11 thoughts on “Advice to Youngsters”

  1. In my undergraduate years, I was a very lazy student in mathematics, so I was a B- student.

    The shitty circumstances that you know ensured that I have redone those math courses (in analysis, linear algebra and statistics), so that now I feel as a total fanatic like you in your early years.

    Furthermore, I know now what kind of a mathematician I am: I love applied mathematics and I want to know how it works with their mathematical analysis and linear algebra tools, but I’m not an algebra fundamentalist and I hate geometry very strongly.

    And now, I don’t know what I should do with this…


    1. David, if you don’t mind, could I make a personal request of you? Could you stop correcting yourself so much? I haven’t ever seen you make a grammar or spelling mistake that would affect whether your points can be understood – heck, most of the time they don’t even register until you point them out.

      I like to follow up on comments on the more controversial posts Clarissa makes, and I use the comments sidebar and total number of comments to eyeball the state of conversation. Multiple comments from you slightly messes with my ability to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I need to write more controversial posts. I need to think of something shocking. It’s hard, though, because I have a stiff competition in this area these days.


  2. Emotionally and social immature book-worm, neutrotically anxious about being Found Out as not clever enough to be at university, never was a straight A student but I got my first, and oh did I love my subject and all its ancilliary subjects and the discovery of journals and getting to run wild in a Really Big Library!

    I agree, your subject has to make you happy. Reading about it (or working practice problems or whatever the routine, get-better activity for an undergrad is in your field) has to be so much fun it’s genuine competition to any party, and sometimes you stay in or leave early or lose sleep to carry on doing it. By the END of your PhD, you may be rather off it, but if you don’t like it that much at the start, life is not going to be fun – and life is too SHORT to work on stuff you never fall in love with.


  3. I pretty much lived in the library throughout my bachelor’s degree. PhD students would have to hunt me down sometimes to get access to required reading that I was mostly doing for fun.

    But I also grew increasingly disillusioned with and bored with my presumed field as time went on. I miss being as ravenous as I was back then, and I feel like I’m still basically living off what I learned when I was basically a kid, just getting duller with time.


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