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The graduate student’s long march

December 1, 2005 Articles, Princeton writings
Students of English literature might be acquainted with Alan Sillitoe's classic novel, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner."  In that story, the protagonist, Smith, gains relief from his chaotic schedule in a well-heeled boarding school and time to muse about life in his daily runs.  As a runner myself — having competed in track and field, cross-country and marathons — I empathize with Smith. One of the simple pleasures of long-distance running is the seclusion that Sillitoe notes.  The solitude of running provides an opportunity to appreciate, inter alia, the beauty of the sun setting over rolling hills while hearing the sound of leaves crunching under one's feet.  However, sometimes the solitude is simply lonesome. This is why I sometimes think that Sillitoe was in fact writing about the doctoral adventure.  The Ph.D. is a very lonely pursuit, and it goes without saying that it is a long race, metaphorically speaking.  (The median time from matriculation to receiving a Ph.D. is 6.0 years.)  And the isolation of the Princeton graduate experience has given me an epiphany about life: It really is stranger than fiction. Though I don't run on the beach, I often imagine leaving tracks in the sand…




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