As students, once we have an admit to an university, there isn't really a limit to what we can dream of achieving, not because we let our dreams go wild, but because even in reality, there aren't any limits to our goals. This is a world, where if we worked hard enough, we could do anything we want to. After about four and half years of graduate academic life at ASU, this is something that I still hold as an ideology even though I have had many roadblocks in my research recently and even though I am just another average grad student.
I ask my juniors the first time I speak with them online, what they might want to achieve. They give me tremendous answers. Some want to start their own companies at silicon valley. Others want to start an NGO that rebuilds Africa. Some want to build devices that forever change the way we live and others want to put their skills to solve the biggest problems of today. Why then would everyone end up with a job in a company that they didn't want to work at, doing something that pretty much anyone else could do? What happened to all the ambition; the hubris ?
Sometime before we start, we talk to our seniors, who scare our dreams away inceptioning us instead with nightmares. Nightmares of financial problems, about the student loans that we have to repay. Nightmares about the expectations that the job market has and how difficult it is to live up to them. Even before we start, we are scared and afraid. They induce in us the idea that the point of our education is to get a job once we graduate so as to pay our loans back. They tell us that it is the norm that once we are here at the university, the more important thing is to get a part-time job rather than finding a thesis adviser, to get an intern rather than exploring the culture around us, to take certain courses that apparently are the only ones that would give us any jobs rather than those that we actually are interested in and want to study. They infuse in us an image, the image of how an average graduate student is.
We are now expected to turn every cog and build for ourselves the same image so that once we graduate, we graduate like every senior before us and their seniors before them. This wisdom passed on from class to class every year and the pressure that it creates, is what I believe to be the reason that stops us from reaching our ambitions.
Academic seniors advice the ambition out of their juniors.
Once we has this image imparted in our minds, we strive so hard to live up to it. After all, it is our well-settled seniors' word against our own hubris. Its the safest thing to follow: someone whose path, we are certain will lead to something sustainable. A senior is after all someone who has gone through education much the same way that we are expecting to go through. They got a part-time job in their first semester and held on to it throughout their degree, got an intern in their summer break, got a job once they graduated with a high five figure compensation. We might think very easily that following their steps would be the best thing to do. We settle for their dreams swapping them with ours which suddenly start to look difficult and distant.
The problem with this ideology though is that the person whom we are trying to emulate is an average person. Most reasonably good students with some academic capability will be able to achieve this. Where is the difficulty in re-doing all the course work we did in our undergrad and getting an undergrad job with a graudate degree ?
With the amount of competition in a school like ASU, there is an intense competition to follow this image. It is often very difficult and one has to toil to be the best person in an average group. This is compounded by the fact that our seniors tell us that the companies that we are expecting to be hired by are also looking for someone average, someone like them. We look at them, with their life stable and think that, it is what we want. We re-orient our dreams. The old American dream of having a sub-urban house with kids playing in the front porch is the reason for our failure in our ambition. This re-oriented dream is never an answer that I get to the question I started this article with although this is the answer I get from every masters' student during the course of their degree program.
Having a degree and an average job is akin to be being a bird with broken wings.
By competing to be the best among the the average, we are living the dreams of just about everybody else and not our own. While we may easily feel that a book seller is a good lifestyle, we should dream to be on the books rather than selling them. While it is true that our ambition will take us through a route that is not paved and lead us to places that we don't know much about, it is better to find out what is at the end of such a road rather than to prefer the ending that everyone knows about, considering that we get to do the journey only once.