Sunday, January 22, 2012

Where to begin? Money? Time? Autonomy? Community? by Veronica Jayne

[Ah, I cannot tell you how delighted I feel each time another friend emails me a personal narrative about graduate school. It makes me wonder why on earth have I not thought of asking my colleagues/friends before. After all, misery loves company ^_^. Anyway, our guest blogger today is my dear roommate, Veronica, so her remarks about the furniture applies to me as well. When I read Veronica's essay, I thought, "She is absolutely right. Just like her, what keeps me going is my stubbornness." That's it. When you are in grad school you invest in your study so much that, by the time you question your decision about an academic career it seems much more reasonable just to keep going. In my case, I have been away from my husband, who is in Turkey, for more than a year and giving up grad school would mean all this longing would be for nothing. Now, I cannot have that, can I? I should at least have a diploma to show for my suffering, don't you think ^_^?  Well, joking aside, despite the hardships I do like being a grad student for reasons similar to Veronica's. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to miss my days as a grad student when I graduate. You might be thinking, you're going to miss it just because what is yet to come is much worse ^_^. I guess I will see it for myself soon enough. Being a real romantic in spirit, for the time being I will laugh at the prospect of danger and more suffering the future has in store for me. The challenge is much more exhilarating than any easy victory. But I have to admit, the pragmatist in me nags me about the financial aspect of grad school now and then, especially when I see my non-academic friends buy new houses and cars and acquire all kinds of property. Then I ask myself, "Would those possessions make you happy?" and I immediately know the answer "No way!" Haha, thinking about it this answer might very well be a defense mechanism. I'm sure there is a fancy name for it too. Oh well, now I leave you with Veronica's insightful reflections. Beril]

Where to begin?  Money? Time? Autonomy? Community? by Veronica Jayne

I realize we are supposed to write about grad SCHOOL for this essay,
but education, research and teaching are not the first things I think
about when asked about my experience as a grad student.

I would be lying if claimed that my financial situation was not a
constant burr in my side as a grad student.  Between my master and
doctoral degrees, I have been financially hobbled nearly my entire
adult life.  Which has suited me fine on most days. I have grown into
a lifestyle that reflects the small stipend I receive 9 months out of
the year.  Of course, I have no children, no mortgage, no car loan,
and every piece of furniture in my apartment is a hand-me-down.
Looking to the future, however, I also have very little money saved
for my wedding, and I still have debt that I incurred over 7 years ago
as an undergraduate...  And I believe I will be underemployed after
completing my doctorate.

So, why do I put up with it?  I'm too stubborn not to finish what I
started.  Really.  I can't think of another aspect of this lifestyle
that keeps me here more than my own stubbornness.  I love to teach,
but I could teach without a PhD.  I'm a curious person, but I could
satiate my curiosity without formal classes and research.  I hope this
essay is not sounding too stark or futile, but if I'm not honest about
these things, then my experience would have less meaning.

So, beyond my stubborn streak keeping me here, what makes life GOOD as
a grad student?  As a grad student, my schedule has been the epitome
of flexibility:)  Classes, teaching and meetings take up a relatively
small portion of my week, and beyond that, I can decide when and where
I do my work.  I wasn't always good at balancing my work and private
life, mind you.  I used to work every weekend and feel guilty if I
didn't work on the weekends.  Thankfully, I've gotten over that
feeling~ and learned to complete my work in a more timely manner.  As
a grad student, I also enjoy long summers and seasonal breaks.  Not
living near my family, I consider these breaks sacred and worth more
than the stipends they bequeath me each year.

What else do I appreciate about being a grad student?  The curious mix
of autonomy and community.  I seldom feel like I have anyone breathing
down my neck.  I am in charge of my own classes, and my own research.
No one micro-manages me, no one contradicts my decisions.  And yet,
when I have a problem, I feel fully supported.  There is a network of
colleagues, professors and professional staff I can go to with my
problems.  They are also the first to congratulate me on my successes
and to listen to those infinitely entertaining stories that always
start with, "you won't believe what my student did today...".  This
kind of community nourishes me and makes me content with life.

These are the things I think about when you ask me what its like to be
a grad student.

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