From the first chapter of David Lodge's Changing Places
. Although this satirical text is already three decades' old, there is still a ring of Truth to it. Heck, those who want insight into the occasional bouts of anomie experienced by this particular British postgraduate student from the United States could do worse than to start here.
In America, it is not too difficult to obtain a bachelor's degree. [...] It is at the postgraduate level that the pressure really begins, when the student is burnished and tempered in a series of gruelling courses and rigorous assessments until he is deemed worthy to receive the accolade of the PhD. By now he has invested so much time and money in the process that any career other than an academic one has become unthinkable, and anything less than success in it unbearable. He is well primed, in short, to enter a profession as steeped in the spirit of free enterprise as Wall Street, in which each scholar-teacher makes an individual contract with his employer, and is free to sell his services to the highest bidder.
[...]The British postgraduate student is a lonely, forlorn soul, uncertain of what he is doing or whom he is trying to please - you may recognize him in the tea-shops around the Bodleian and the British Museum by the glazed look in his eyes, the vacant stare of the shell-shocked veteran for whom nothing has been real since the Big Push. As long as he manages to land his first job, this is no great handicap in the short run, since tenure is virtually automatic in British universities, and everyone is paid on the same scale.
My personal challenge, of course, is to thrive in the interstices between these two academic cultures. Can I do it? Umm...stay tuned.