Once when I was around 10-12 years old, I remember yelling at my mom and telling her that something she did wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what exactly she had done, but it probably involved justly punishing me for something I had done. Regardless, I told her it wasn’t fair, and she said, “Go ahead, send me to my room.” I gasped. Why would anyone want to be sent to their room? Being sent to one’s room in my house meant that you were in trouble. It also meant that you were about to spend a good deal of time bored. Why would anyone want that? Why would any sane person wish to be sent to time-out?
Yesterday as I sat in my study pouring over this research proposal of mine that continues to grow more unwieldy by the day, I thought to myself that post-coursework graduate studies is much like an adult version of time-out.
When you’re still in coursework, you are constantly surrounded by peers, and you look forward to getting together to play. You have lunch and coffee with one another, you talk about fun things that are happening, and you share your projects. Occasionally you may have a play group that you don’t particularly enjoy, but even these have their moments.
After coursework is finished, things change. You find yourself spending more and more time alone, shut inside small spaces and having to amuse yourself. Sometimes you emerge long enough from the depths of the library to see many of your friends still playing together, but ultimately this is short-lived.
What distinguishes this adult version of time-out from that which we know as children is that we have in some way chosen to be in time-out. Graduate school is, after all, voluntary. What’s more, the solitary life that follows coursework is regarded as reward for work done. You have done well in coursework, passed your qualifying exams, and now you are trusted to amuse yourself and stay out of trouble. In some respects, you begin to look forward to time-out.
This version of time-out is thus different from that which we knew as children. I suppose at least one thing is similar…all time-outs are temporary by nature, and eventually you get to rejoin the ranks and resume playing with others. Until then, I’m sending myself back to my room.