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Graduate student in medieval literature, here - so possibly the most seemingly impractical career choice ever, especially given my competencies in physics/math, but here are some of the main reasons:

  1. Research, research, research - and the appeal of my own specific field, Anglo-Saxon/Old Norse literature & linguistics

  2. Teaching - I do in fact enjoy lecturing and leading discussions. A great deal of theatre training has translated into ease and competence when speaking to large groups.

  3. Relative flexibility and freedom - when working as a TA and a substitute lecturer, I have loved the freedom to set my own schedule (for marking/prep/etc.), outside of specific class times.

  4. While in grad school, and afterwards if I manage to get an academic job: guaranteed support while I spend my time reading and writing and learning, which is what I'd want to do anyways.

  5. Environment - I love the university environment, because it allows me to connect with (and learn from) researchers in so many different fields, not only my own.

  6. I haven't been as concerned about effective altruism as many here, but helping students develop critical thinking, writing, analysis, and communication skills is definitely important to me.

  7. I believe, based on my experience thus far, that I do have the ability to be competitive on the academic job market.

Other related career options that I will be prepared for if academia doesn't pan out: editing, publishing, writing, journalism, library science, translation, teaching ESL. I also work in professional theatre (as an actress & stage manager).

(Convenient timing - I just posted, yesterday, some of my thoughts on this to my blog. Feel free to read if interested: )

A rather belated response, but hopefully still relevant: consider exploring fields of interest to you that are sufficiently different from compsci to give your brain a break while still being productive?

To explain by means of an example: I happen to have a strong interest in both historical philology and theoretical physics, and I've actively leveraged this to my advantage in that when my brain is fed up of thinking about conundrums of translation in Old Norse poetry, I'll switch gears completely and crack open a textbook on, say, subatomic physics or Lie algebras, and start reading/working problems. Similarly, if I've spent several hours trying to wrap my head around a mathematical concept and need a respite, I can go read an article or a book on some aspect of Anglo-Saxon literature. It's still a productive use of time, but it's also a refreshing break, because it requires a different type of thinking. (At least, in my experience?) Of course, if I'm exceptionally low on energy, I simply resort to burying myself in a good book (non-fiction or fiction, generally it doesn't matter).

Another example: a friend of mine is a computer scientist, but did a minor in philosophy and is an avid musician in his spare time. (And both reading philosophy and practicing music have the added advantage of being activities that do not involve staring at a computer screen!)

One survey (and bonus questions!) completed.

My experience was, overall, excellent - although my parents are definitely highly religious. (To be more precise, my father is a pastor, so biology class certainly contained some outdated ideas!) However, I'm in complete agreement - relative to any other possible options, I don't think I could have gotten a better education (or preparation for postsecondary/graduate studies) any other way.

Combination of methods based on what has worked for me in the past with other languages! I've used Rosetta Stone before, for French & Spanish, and while it's definitely got advantages, I (personally - I also know people who love it!) also found it very time-consuming for very little actual learning, and it's also expensive for what it is.


a) I have enough friends who are either native or fluent speakers of Mandarin that once I'm a little more confident with the basics, I will draft them to help me practice conversation skills :)

b) My university offers inexpensive part-time courses to current students.

c) Lots of reading, textbook exercises, watching films, listening to music, translating/reading newspapers, etc. in the language.

d) I'm planning to go to China to teach English in the not-too-distant future, so while I'd like to have basic communication skills down before I go, immersion will definitely help!


I'm Jennifer; I'm currently a graduate student in medieval literature and a working actor. Thanks to homeschooling, though, I do have a solid background and abiding interest in quantum physics/pure mathematics/statistics/etc., and 'aspiring rationalist' is probably the best description I can provide! I found the site through HPMoR.

Current personal projects: learning German and Mandarin, since I already have French/Latin/Spanish/Old English/Old Norse taken care of, and much as I personally enjoy studying historical linguistics and old dead languages, knowing Mandarin would be much more practical (in terms of being able to communicate with the greatest number of people when travelling, doing business, reading articles, etc.)

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