What happens when a few scientists interact with a waitress?
Welcome to The Big Bang Theory, a hit TV show more or less based on that storyline. But did you also know that, amidst the laughs and quarrels, lessons on grad school can be learned?
Here are five lessons about grad school gleaned from The Big Bang Theory:
From left, Simon Helberg, Jim Parsons, and Johnny Galecki in a scene from “The Big Bang Theory”.
1. You might never get to do real work as an assistant
As we see with Sheldon’s new assistant Alex, a grad student at the university, she is given menial tasks, such as picking out a Valentine’s Day gift for Sheldon’s scientist girlfriend, Amy. And when she thinks her boss, a scientist at a Los Angeles university, is going to let her contribute to his scientific work, he laughs.
Of course, a teaching assistant (TA) is a different story, in that you get to teach lower-level college courses. But in the show, Alex is just Sheldon’s assistant.
The lesson here: If you sign up in your grad school years to be an assistant to a professor, don’t assume it’s because that person wants you to help contribute to their work in any significant way. Just observe, help and learn what you can.
2. Those in the sciences may make fun of you if you stop at a master’s
Howard, an engineer at the university, gets made fun of by Sheldon (and other people occasionally) for only having a master’s degree and not a Ph.D. Multiple times now, he’s explained that most engineers stop at a master’s but no-one seems to listen.
If you want to go into academia (especially in the sciences), you might want to think about going for the full-out Ph.D. While it seems most people in the real world won’t make fun of you for just having a master’s, think about the other benefits to a Ph.D.: Namely, it will help you get on a tenure track and perhaps boost your earnings.
Most importantly, do what makes the most sense for your field. Besides, as Howard has shown by flying into space with NASA, there are other impressive ways to beef up that resume. A mix of schooling and real-world experience could be your best bet.
3. You might have to work a crappy job to help pay for grad school
As we saw with Bernadette, Howard’s wife, you might have to work an irrelevant job to help cover grad school tuition. She worked as a waitress before earning her Ph.D. and landing a sweet science job. Some people like being a waitress and others don’t, but the point is: Not everyone gets grad school covered via scholarships or by being a T.A.
Many Ph.D. programs (and some master’s programs) are too strenuous, causing many students to not work during school. In fact, sometimes it’s not allowed. But if you don’t land funding, you might have to.
4. Connecting with non-Ph.D.s may be an experiment in itself
Some people who go for the Ph.D., such as Sheldon, get so caught up in the technical language of their field that they become practically inaccessible to the general public. Of course, it’s exaggerated and funny in the show, but be careful: If you go for those advanced degrees, make sure to not get too sucked into technical lingo.
Leonard, who is Penny’s surprising love interest (the hot waitress), does better than Sheldon and his scientist friends at connecting with non-Ph.D.s. Even though he can’t hang out with Penny’s friends and watch a football game (in the show, he just kept yelling out rehearsed technical rules), he still balances the two worlds.
During grad school, stay caught up with pop culture and in dialogue with non-Ph.D.s and you should be fine.
5. Once you date a graduate, you can’t go back
Leonard made it practically impossible for Penny (who has only taken classes at a community college) to date non-intelligent guys. She dated dumb guys before Leonard. Of course, you can be intelligent without a Ph.D. but be mindful of who you date during and after grad school because, with your utter brilliance, you might set their standards for dating.
Don’t be mistaken, though: Love doesn’t always require a degree. I mean, look at Leonard’s continued interest in Penny, which clearly goes beyond physical attraction. And it seems Raj, the scientist who can’t talk to girls sober, will date just about anyone at this point. Just be mindful of how that degree will affect what you have to offer in the dating world.
The show’s chemistry is not complex: It’s funny, we laugh. Take the grad school lessons with a grain of salt and a smile.
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