Undergraduate degrees teach you how to learn, graduate degrees teach you how to think.
It occurred to me earlier this week while I was sitting out on my porch that virtually everything I learned during my undergraduate career was really just numbers and bullshit designed to fill my head, pass the time and convince me that I was part of some kind of higher-learning process.
Undergraduate degrees teach you everything you need to know about “knowing”. A lot of it is very useful, such as how to use a library, avoid plagiarism, find sources, compare data, write for 5 hours straight about something obscure and even the faintest glimmers of how to argue.
But none of it involves thinking, not really. It’s mostly just doing; going from one place to the next, reading one book then the other, writing one word then the next, following the pattern as it shapes itself around your studies.
The main problem with undergraduate degrees is that they are necessary. You can’t go on to bigger and better things or, hell, even discover how to think until you run through the mill. You have tons of data, tons of facts, not virtually no idea what you should do with all of it.
Thankfully, graduate studies shows you that there is something you can do with it.
Right off the bat, you are presented with a new way of approaching your studies. Passivity, the pride of the undergraduate, to just sit there and learn, take it all in, is now the enemy. Aggression, the active voice of criticism, you learn is the academic’s best friend. Without it, we’re nothing but a bunch of children lolly-gagging our way from one room to the next marveling at how brilliant we all must be since we go to university and know all kinds of stuff.
So, while undergraduate studies show you how to learn and acquire knowledge, graduate degrees teach you how to think and show you what you can do with all that random stuff floating around in your head. A master’s degree isn’t just about going further with any specific type of study, but going in a completely new direction with it. Now, it’s time to look at the data, analyze and criticize it. And then criticize it again.
It’s one of those obsessive disorders, where you find yourself asking yourself every day, every moment and every time you find your ass planted firmly in the couch and your eyes crawling the ceiling as you wrack your brain over and over wondering “what does it mean? What does it actually mean”…
I suppose “unknowing” would be an appropriate way of looking at what we get out of a master’s degree, as we spend a considerable amount of time going over everything we learned during our undergrad and thoroughly criticizing the hell out of it. It often turns out that most of what we think we knew happened to be bullshit all along, the veritable Wikipedia of knowledge, stuffed with half-truths, expectations and the bold-faced lies the victors have propagated about the losers throughout history.