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To AskaTA@tech.mit.edu:

Why work so hard … trading time for money. Spending more time at work, than with you family and kids … Life goes by too fast … It’s time for you to think … make a wise decision. Why wait until one morning you wake up and kids are gone and you don’t even know them … It’s happening to most American… working two jobs to barely pay bills.

STOP THE INSANITY …. Visit … Work Smart Not Hard (http://eromero.homestead.com/) What do you have to loose??????

­—Enrique Romero

Enrique, I’m touched. You’ve really nailed the consummate dilemma plaguing grad students these days and I think your well reasoned inquiry deserves a thorough answer. Why do we work so hard, spending hour upon hour in lab or staring at a computer screen? Why are we trading time for money, when all of our peers from college have high paying consulting jobs? Life does go by too fast. One day you’re a 1st year, being deluded by visions of grandeur, seduced by overtly complicated but ever so alluring experiments, and the next day, you wake up and you’re a 4th year without a compelling data set. Perhaps it is time for us to think and make a wise decision. What are we doing here, conducting research and TAing undergrads who never write in or show up to recitations? We most certainly want to know our kids one day and we want don’t want to say to them, yes Jimmy or Susan, your parents did spend the prime of their lives in lab. But you’re right in raising the alarm. The cautionary tale you describe in your missive may very well befall us all.

I know you want us to stop the insanity. The reasoning on your Web site suggests that we start, “capitalizing on the Home-Based Business craze and the Self-Development boom,” but it’s just not that easy for us. We don’t understand any of these real word terms you bandy about. What’s a Home-Based Business Craze? What’s a Self-Development boom? Is that a conference we can go to? I’m sorry Enrique. I know you’re trying to help us, but you tempt us with a world we simply can’t imagine.

Nonetheless, your case is strong. You say we simply have to e-mail you all of our personal information and then we can be on our way to financial success. It is a sorely tempting proposition. And at the end of it all, you counter by asking us, “What do you have to loose??????”

Well Enrique, I’ll tell you. We have lots to loose. We have lots to loose because we’re afraid. You see, there’s this thing called the real world out there. I’ve never experienced it, but from what I’ve been told, it’s inhabited by lawyers, accountants, and evil suit wearing monsters. It’s hell out there and we’re just not ready to toe the young professional waters of the River Styx. Your appeal to go out there and start a home business is alluring, but we all know the reality that awaits us. If we go out there, it’s no free food, no seminar cookies, no nap time, no lab Frisbee, no pizza journal club, no cheep beers and stimulating conversation at the Muddy. If we go out there, we’re doomed. They’ll eat us alive. They’ll make us pay bills, wear ties, act our age, get a 401k, attend leadership meetings and team building exercises! TEAM BUILDING EXERCISES!!!!!

Don’t you see? While there may be riches in that world out there, we just aren’t ready to abandon the paradise we’ve constructed for ourselves. You ever read that book, Lord of the Flies? Well that’s what life is like in grad school. Out there in the real world, there are adults to bully us around, society to impose restrictions on us, but here in grad school, we’re kings of the island. We make up our own rules and do as we please, with only the scary monsters in the woods (advisors) forcing us into irrational frenzies. Sure there are downsides. We wear rags and scavenge for food, whilst chasing the never-ending goal of “guaranteed funding”. But other than that, we have an enviable existence: no adults, no rules. Indeed, we have truly found paradise. And no Mean Milton or guide to home business success will ever take that away from us.

­—TA Charles Lin G