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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

Doctoral Adolescence

Adolescence is an awful word. I am sorry I make you picture it. Yet, its meaning hides something useful, that teenage or pubescence do not really convey. It comes from the idea that something important is missing and is being built at the time.

What I care about adolescence is what is added to our brains. For this, I need to link to Todd Hare's work. In which he studied how our brain builds a whole new risk and emotional management system during the teens. This work is important as it creates an enlightenment (or wokeness if I were younger). And with it comes transgression and novelty.

Being a doctoral student is being an adolescent all over again. You need to build anew your identity. There are some stuff you like from your academic childhood. Some things you hope others will like. But you are not sure. You will never be as long as you are within the Ph.D.

Your are a black swan in a sea of weird looking ducklings. All wondering whether they are worth being asked out, being liked. All struggling for recognition while marred with feelings of being impostors, and unworthy of the seat that holds their weight.

As you go to seminars, courses, lectures, you learn about the growing and changing interests of the people around you. You put your ideas out there and get hurt in the most vulnerable ways possible. Being a young scholar hurts.

Many of us will get help. Many of us will pretend its alright. Masochism and psychological counseling are common in academia. A place where only the fit survive. Where we train more PhD than there are positions that require them in our institutions.

You will get guidance. And in contrast to your teenage experience, meeting older people tends to help. They know what you are going through and the can advise your well. Keep several of them handy at all time.

As your ideas grow, you will get to go to conferences, the Summer Balls of the academic life. You will learn that no one cares about you. That maybe two or three people went to your Tuesday afternoon session. And as you drown your sorrows you will meet amazing people. That you will keep around and flock towards in your future balls. Some will be ducklings just as you. Some will be dressed up and filled to the rim with anxiety. Many will be great. Meet them.

You will go to summer schools and struggle to get yourself to the frontiers of knowledge and have a space to show why your ideas matter. You will meet more people as you drink and feel like an idiot in castle infected villages. You will meet coauthors and build relationships that last a lifetime.

If I repeat myself then I repeat myself. But the multitudes you will meet will match the multitudes inside of you. This is crucial because as you grow people will try to contain the beauty in you and your friends are your only way of keeping track of the beautiful multitudeness inside of you.

After years of asking you to think broad, well aimed advisors will asked you to focus on your one thing. Your job market paper. Your JMP. It will become your slogan your thing, your two minute pitch that explains to disinterested audiences why you have value. Puh. My PTSD just flared up while writing this. But it is true. After the early balls comes the prom season. Where senior fly around the world looking for a perfect match.

Here the analogies break down a bit. Because it is a buyer's market. And just as before, you start to feel the burn. Is it me that they want? Why is a clever idea I had once so important? Why does everyone care about where I come from and who advised me so much? Is that really me? Am I just where I finished my education? Ain't I a person? And no, you are not, you are a commodity in the market. You will internalize your commoditization soon.

If you are desperate, you will employ the Google doc of hell. And look at who is getting dates and flown to different countries. Who is asked to stay over and to settle down. I don't advise it. Learning how to make sausage is never a nice experience for a cute little pig out in the market as yourself.

If things continue to go well you will fly out and meet people. You will get some offers. You will decline some. You will struggle to choose between a few. You will have a future. A certainty of kind.

With certainty comes the end of your adolescence. You will start looking for pushing paper out. For writing and getting approvals. You will move out the house of your older folks

and into the real life of a grown up, an assistant professor or such equivalents.

As you continue you might forget eventually why you wanted this so much, and for so long. But your therapist or your repressed memories will remind you of the struggles you faced as you grew up and filled what was missing. As you found the missing pieces in your way to scholarship and you found a set of coauthors and friends you keep meeting yearly on the ball season.

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