Thursday, July 13, 2006

I Could Be A Physician By Now, Right?

I just had a great big laugh. Yesterday I emailed an old girlfriend from college. Although we haven't spoken for years (a falling out of sorts), we used to be quite good friends, and so I thought it would be nice to send her a brief note to say hello. In my letter, I wrote that I was still in Indiana, but almost finished with my PhD. I remarked on the cold winters here. Then I wished her well, and told her I would love to hear what's going on in her life.

Her surprising reply (in part) reads as follows:

"Oh my gosh, Mon! You're in Indiana? And still in school?? I can't even begin to comprehend how much time you've spent in classes - you realize you could be a physician by now, right? You're probably either crazy or highly intelligent (likely the latter) . . . oh, and we live right by South Coast Plaza [Orange County, California] which I can report has absolutely lovely winters. And summers, and springs, so try to get hired on the west coast if at all possible. Hey... I'll bet Victorville Community College is hiring! Yes, it's perfect."

Now, first of all, why is it that some people still conceive of an MD as the most prestigious degree? Why should it matter that I could have been a physician by now? Wouldn't I have done that if I had been so inclined? It is as if she is saying, "What a shame you won't have anything better to show for all these years of classes other than a silly little PhD!" And, while I am indeed both "crazy" and presumably "highly intelligent," it's clear that she wants me to know that she believes the former alone is true. And, Victorville Community College is a notoriously bad community college near my home town of Apple Valley, California (though I did take a phenomenal history class there one summer).

So, my question is, then, when did getting a PhD in English become such a waste of time?


Casey said...

Mon--your choice to do this has always fascinated me, given your O.C. roots. The Ph.D. in literature is probably the most obvious anti-materialist career path a person could choose, and viewed from a perspective of happy materialism (I'm speculating about your old friend), it just doesn't make sense.

Plus, I don't think the crazy/intelligent dichotomy is necessarily either/or.


nedric said...

Sounds like a pretty underhanded email. What did you reply?

Many of my friends(?) could not care less; they don't even notice. And I am not sure which is worse - jabbing criticism or complete disregard? They both suck.

Instead of trying to assure myself that what I'm doing isn't a waste of time, I try to level everything and convince myself everything is a waste of time (or meaningless). I haven't been too successful at this yet.

Monica said...

Well, at least I know I wasn't reading into things (though isn't that what English PhDs do from time to time?).

Yes, Casey, I suppose you're right. But even some of my most materialistic OC/LA friends think it's "totally awesome!" that I'm doing this, though they don't completely get it. Every day I find that I have less in common with my life back home. Not a bad thing.

Nedric, it's interesting that you point out that some of your friends "don't even notice." I have some of those friends too, and many family members, I'm sorry to say. There is definitely something frustrating about friends' and family members' disregard or lack of awareness, but perhaps that's because we're people who think about everything, constantly. Disregard, apathy, lack of awareness -- it's hard to fathom that kind of mindset.

I haven't replied to my "friend." I'm afraid I will unleash a barrage of linguistic missiles -- a little trick I learned while I've been wasting my time as a PhD student.

Michelle said...

It seems to me that what you’re doing is extremely challenging and enjoyable to you. Obviously, a PhD in whatever field one chooses is going to be a huge accomplishment. As for myself, I could not imagine choosing English or pursuing education further at all for that matter, but that's me... That is what makes us (the human race) so fascinating and challenging... we can only try to understand and appreciate each other’s differences, but I doubt anyone can really get there unless they have walked in the other’s shoes. Of course, I can guess who the "friend" is and this response has no barring on that whatsoever. Frankly, all I know about what you are doing is what you have told me, and before then I knew nothing. So, while I’m sure you just scratched the surface, I was enlightened, fascinated and somewhat overwhelmed. As a result, I came away from our conversation with an appreciation for your work. Anyhow, I think a lot of what was said is due to ignorance. I think we all have experienced some of this... Like who the heck cares about what I do until they need to file their tax return... it's quite interesting.

Please don’t take my response as a way to justify what was said or explain away how you feel about it… just my thoughts… Though, I can sympathize with how you must feel given your passion.

Oh, and try not to be horrified with my grammar errors… I do numbers not words!!

Monica said...

Thanks for responding, Michelle. I think you're right -- in some respects it's merely ignorance. I think one of the biggest problems is that people, like my "friend" apparently, measure the worth or value of a career choice against the financial payoff. Translation: A PhD in English may not provide as lucrative a career as an MD might, and so therefore it's not as important. It's a really sad way to think -- and a bizarre manner in which to assign value to things.

And, by the way, your grammar is not so bad at all!

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