Queen’s: To stay or not to stay

Consider the pros and cons of continuing your education or finding a job

Tom Woodhall, MSc. '08
Tom Woodhall, MSc. '08

We’re now approaching the time of year most stressful to students. Pressure is mounting. In addition to all the work you’ve got to do, graduating students have tough choices to make. Do you enter the fray, throw your hat in the ring and take up the noble search for gainful employment? Or do you take the alternate route of entering the halls of some well-renowned institution? Law? Master’s? In what field? So many questions to ask, and everyone who holds some semblance of the answers are too busy to help you decide.

Allow me to impart some wisdom based on my experiences. I stayed at Queen’s to do graduate work, which I have enjoyed. Research is fun—well, as fun as it can be—but there are some downsides worth considering before you take the big leap. In my case, I was presented with the chance to conduct truly unique research and to work for a professor for whom I have great respect. That outweighs—although it comes close, sometimes—a few of the drawbacks you should be aware of before you make your big decision.

The longer you stay, the more buildings collapse around you

When I started at Queen’s, Chernoff wasn’t the chemistry building; the site was a group of Queen’s-owned student houses.Chemistry was in the Frost Wing—a wing attached to the back of Gordon Hall. That’s right, it doesn’t exist anymore. Shortly thereafter, Leonard Cafeteria became the spectacle of culinary perfection it is now, upgraded from the former facility that was more becoming of Kingston’s Penitentiary residents. It doesn’t stop there: has anyone noticed that Jock Harty seems to have gone missing? Don’t think this is going to stop any time soon—or at least not before your tenure as a grad student is done.

History tends to repeat itself

Public facets of Queen’s student life become painfully cyclical. You’ll hear about kids having too much to drink during Frosh Week, the administration getting angry and student governments cracking half-brain schemes that failed years before. Student elections become excruciatingly predictable. It’s not the mistakes that are painful to watch, but the shock and disbelief that student politicians can make redundant mistakes that is unbearable; no matter how hard you try, getting the Common Ground to use flex dollars will not happen. And no matter how hard you try, it’s in vain because no one will listen to your years of accumulated student knowledge. That or maybe people just don’t like me.

Your friends all have money

You don’t want to go to A.J’s Hangar where a bunch of minors are trying to pretend to be their older siblings to get in. (It’s not an Ale House; ale houses don’t have airplanes in them. Hangars do.) You want to hang out with your friends. The problem is your friends have jobs—and salaries. They also don’t live in Kingston anymore. You’ll accumulate your fair share of Via Points but living below the poverty line isn’t conducive to partying in the big city every other weekend. Worse, the few bars in town you actually don’t mind frequenting will either be closed, like Clark Hall Pub or the Scherzo, or they’ll turn their draught selection into something less than enjoyable.

People who are two years younger than you make constant “old” jokes

That’s it for this one. Just don’t be surprised if you get a series of Van Wilder jokes thrown at you.

Queen’s is all you’ll ever know…

That might be a little dramatic, but there are significant benefits to studying elsewhere after your undergrad. The point of doing a Master’s degree is to expand your mind through your education. Spending time in a different place with different people can’t hurt.

Despite all the doom and gloom, there are some advantages to delaying entry into the real world.You have time to burn

While you may not have the money your working colleagues do, the one bargaining chip you do have on your side is time. Cottage? Sure! Road trip through Middle America? Why not! Although you might need to tone down the intensity of trips, not having to wait for “vacation days” makes your life much more flexible.

You get to leave on your own terms

People who are at school can’t wait to leave. Recent graduates always say, “enjoy this as long as you can.” The best part about opting to stay is you get to leave when you’ve had enough. Having the ability to control your education as a graduate student—giving you the choice of one, two or multi-year research opportunities allows you to leave satisfied knowing that you’ve gained as much as you could from your education.

There’s no place like home

The longer you stay, the more like home Kingston will feel. You’ll vote in elections and legitimately care who your city councillor is. The long-term maintenance of your house will take precedence over your desire to use your housemate’s head as a battering ram into some drywall. Best of all, you’ll become comfortable with your surroundings. And that’s a pretty good feeling.

Staying for graduate school at Queen’s is a choice you will have to make by weighing the positives against the negatives. If you’re presented with a unique opportunity to conduct research in an interesting field with a supervisor you’ll enjoy working with, the drawbacks of being a long-term Queen’s student won’t be terribly evident. However, if you’re staying to squeeze a few more years out of your youth, you might end up regretting it when the world grows up around you.

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