Back to work

When I decided to quit The Hindu and leave for grad studies at New York University, my parents, relatives, their friends, my father’s boss at work, his family and their friends all said that I’d made the right decision. “If you don’t finish your higher studies now, you won’t ever do it” was the refrain.

They were wrong. From what I’ve experienced this last three weeks, graduate studies requires commitment and good time-management, both of which I imagine can be mustered irrespective of age (no reductio ad absurdum, please). However, their if-not-now-then-when argument held in another sense.

Professional work as a journalist with a newspaper is different from studying journalism. Deadlines are more visceral when you’re working. Your colleagues don’t expect you to do your best, they expect you to do it right. Commitments are neither fixed nor finite because it all comes down to you. And you’re thinking “what next” all the time.

Once you’ve been like this for two years – and had a whale of a time doing it – being back in school can be jarring. For one, you notice that your attention span is nowhere near good enough. You’re used to keeping up with the news, and the news was never 6,000 words long nor anything short of crisp on any line.

For another, meetings that lasted three or six hours always involved arguments. When was the last time you sat and just listened to anyone for that long (without being high)?

When you worked from home, you knew you were being paid for it (however little). You didn’t work toward grades that involved months of work. You might’ve known you weren’t the best science journalist in the country but getting a small story good and right made you happy. It was your kingdom and you were king. The self-determinism was the perfect anesthetic to the cynicism you wallowed in.

But as a grad student, you lose all of that. You feel like you’re on a leash. I know I do. I won’t deny that there are good experiences to be had as a student, too (and in New York for added measure), and I’m trying to milk them for what they’re worth. Nevertheless, I don’t understand why some of my friends want to be students again.

I for one can’t wait to get back to work.