About a week ago, I received an actual, hand-signed, paper-and-ink letter
from some multi-titled university administrator congratulating me for receiving a bunch of A's in relatively easy classes, and inviting me (and my parents and friends and ancestral spirits and pet chinchilla!) to some high-falutin' award ceremony where I would presumably be handed an impressive sheet of gold-embossed wood pulp entitling me to write an impressive resume
without blatantly lying, legally carry a concealed weapon, and receive the lifelong benefits of Love and Happiness and Wisdom and Free Beer.
Today, I became disillusioned enough to seriously consider quitting school.
A bit over a year ago, after a schizoid academic career spanning chemistry, geography, computer science, and (finally, after being forced to formally declare a major upon transfer from a community college) meteorology, I sat down and realized that I had to make a final decision about just what flavor of B.S. would taste best on my inevitable degree. I knew I was good at math. So good, in fact, that I picked a physics major because I thought straight math would be too easy. It was a strategic decision - while I had always intended to eventually do something abstract and theoretical, the problem-solving skills I'd presumably develop in advanced physics courses would give me an advantage in graduate school over the math geeks who'd spent their undergrad years in pure abstraction. The physics curriculum was flexible, allowing for a wide variety of electives, so I didn't think there'd be any problem in my taking whatever math classes I wanted above and beyond the minimum requirements for the degree.
I was wrong. It should have been such a simple matter - may I be excused from an insignificant, one-credit optics lab conflicting with a three-credit advanced calculus course that I need, if not to get admitted to grad school, than at least to receive financial support? Of course!, any reasonable professor would say, we're glad to see you're so ambitious. But professors stop being reasonable with students once they realize that published papers are their lifeblood, and dogmatism in areas unrelated to their pursuit of tenure (and eventually the envied "emeritus" position) provides the path of least resistance to that goal.
"We don't care what you want to do with your life. This book says you have to take the optics lab. In our work, we follow the scientific method, actively challenging dogma in favor of results. But you're not worthy of such consideration. The dogma of this book is good enough for the likes of you.
They didn't actually use those words, but the message came through loud and clear.
With nearly a hundred credit hours behind me, it's too late to change majors. The decision to choose an undergraduate physics major, which I had hoped would put me at an advantage as a graduate math student, has now become a major disadvantage. I've passed the point of no return, and my plans have been royally screwed by people who simply can't be bothered.