Getting Out Of Grad School

Brother B sent me a link to a quirky comic, Jim Monroe and Marc Ngui‘s Time Management for Anarchists that helped me give me the last 5% of certainty I needed to know that getting out of graduate school is the right decision for me.

The ideas are pretty close to my own in many ways, but there is one section in particular that was pretty much dead-on for the question of what to do about grad school:

It’s just so much easier to plan to do great things than to actually do great things. In my head all my grand plans succeed amazingly with little or no work.

I’ve screwed up a lot of projects in my life. Granted I’ve also accomplished quite a bit as well, but the results are something of a crap shoot.

The idea in heading off on my own and working on something I really care about is enticing. I like programming computers. I like solving problems. What I dislike is having to work on things I don’t care about.

What happens though if I go off to work on my own and I fuck it up? I’m not worried that I’m going to be lazy, but I’m worried that with my wandering imagination I’ll keep chasing butterflies and never actually get anything done. I really like many of my ideas and think they’re really good, but there comes a point where I have to stop dreaming and start doing to get something done.

I’m worried that being able to work on my own will require some sort of fundamental personal change that I can’t manage. That when the going gets tough I’ll flake and fail. Who hasn’t at one time or another resolved to lose weight or quit smoking or exercise more and then failed to do so? It takes more than simple resolve to see a concrete behavior change; it takes commitment. I fear I don’t have enough.

That’s why I wasn’t going to leave grad school: the deadlines and structure. I do robot work for my adviser even though I don’t really care about robots so that I can learn to get shit done. After I get the hang of being productive then I’ll head off on my own and work on stuff.

The problem with that plan is my commitment doesn’t just come from some magic reservoir. I am committed to things because they matter, and the problem with the robots is they just don’t matter to me.

If I grow a pair, I don’t really have to do the robots anymore. After this semester I’ve got all the credits I need for my masters if I do a thesis. To graduate, I just have to be enrolled the semester that I want to have the thesis approved. (I don’t have to be in Nashville, I just have to pay $200.)

Given what I want to research, I’m not going to be done next semester, and my adviser has two other students graduating in the summer, so she can’t review the thesis then. That means that I need to have the thesis complete by about this time next year.

That works about right with my plans currently. I am planning on launching a couple big things in September of next year and I need significantly more robust web publishing software to do it than what is available now. My thesis proposal is to design and implement that software.

So all that is left is to get my adviser to agree. ☺ I figure I’ll lay my cards on the table and ask for specific deliverables she would like to see that would make her happy to review my thesis — a tit for tat. Once I get those done then I head off to B’more, shack up in my woman’s basement, and work on not being a dumbass.

Sounds like a plan.

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