Saturday, June 1, 2013

Are there any luxuries in grad school?

Are there any luxuries in grad school?

The comment seems ridiculous when you think about the things that we put up with during our time here:
*low wages
*long hours (20 hours a week for teaching?  ha!  Try like 30-35 on teaching alone!)
*high stress - publications, comps, dissertations, conferences, and all this ON TOP of your course and teaching load
*low regard - your family probably doesn't understand and makes commentary about you "being in school forever", your spouse/SO doesn't understand, people think you are uppity
*some people (thankfully not me) don't have health insurance covered by their stipend or any affordable options.  Dental? As if...

And that's just to name a few things that spring to mind...

But that said, grad school does afford us some luxuries.  Or at least it has me.  I realized on a message board  I frequent that I am "lucky" in that I have the flexibility and encouragement of like-minded peers when it comes to things.  This affords me some pretty cool opportunities.  I'm going to name a few.  See if you can name any yourself or if any of these match up.

1. Travel
I am pretty lucky in that most of my adult life has allowed for travel.  My parents are rather worldly people in that they like culture and good food but I didn't grow up travelling the globe - just North America.  My parents made it possible for me to go abroad and I did so during my junior year of college.  I spent a year abroad in the UK studying and researching my senior thesis on health care.  It was amazing.  I couldn't have asked for more.  I also got to see much of Europe.  I spent two weeks in Italy lounging by the pool and taking pictures.  I spent Christmas in Bavaria - Nuremberg to be exact.  It was a Christmas unlike any I could forget.  4 and a half weeks in a picture-perfect little place with friends.

Last year at this time I was landing in Rwanda for coursework and field study that my university paid for in large part.  I moved most of my things into a storage locker here, moved the rest home, and then moved in with a close friend and a colleague when I came back from my trip.  It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot.  It also has helped me look good on a CV.  And it proves that, despite all my himming and hawwing, I can still speak French - like it or not!

I've also gotten to travel on conferences.  Most notably, I travelled to Canada and visited the U.S. embassy in Ottawa during a conference.  My week-long stay was paid for entirely by the U.S. and Canadian government.

Travel is a luxury, though.  Most people don't have the money or reason to go so they can't prioritize it.  It annoys me to see Americans being so damn uppity about what they have when they've never seen the outside world.  The world isn't America, contrary to a recent comment made by some idiot in a facebook war about why America doesn't provide proper health care to its citizens and why it should.  It isn't the world and people do just fine on their own minus our "help".  I am an American but I'm not that dense, basically.  I don't assume that our way is best.  Leaving the country made me appreciate things like a welfare state and transport (I never owned a car until I graduated school and still hate driving) that the U.S. really doesn't provide as well as any other HDC.  However, leaving the country also made me appreciate things like food.  I still stand by the fact that the U.S. has one of the best food "cultures" around and Chicago, specifically, is a food mecca that I have come to miss when not living in the metro area.  Still, it was academia and research that afforded me these experiences.  I wish everyone had these opportunities but my job is unique in allowing me such things.

2. Time
I make my own schedule.  I doubt I will ever find a job more flexible than this.  And that's why if I ever have kids I will likely be the person that is running the kids to the doctor, dentist, etc because lord knows I can.  I still work 80 hours a week but I don't see that block schedule that my Dad does.  He's a banker and works a ton of hours.  He has a hard time believing sometimes, I think, that I work as many hours as I do but I really do.  I take my work home with me.  I grade papers all of the effing time, I eat while I'm reading for courses, and I think up paper ideas or keyword searches in the shower.  Work never stops, of course, which leads to stress, but if I manage it, I can have a pretty good schedule.

This schedule allows me to travel, to have the summers off, and to set my own hours.  Few jobs allow for this but if I stay in academia, this will always be my blessing (and curse).  I want to look at it as a glass half full, though.  No need to be a total pessimist.

3. A community that "gets it".
My colleagues are also my closest friends and my committee is made up of trusted mentors.  I am able to surround myself with people that think like me, work like me, and are interested in the things that I am.  Well, not exactly the SAME things but many of the same things.  When I am stressed about comps, I have shoulders to cry on.  When I am worried about a final paper that just will not work, people get it.  When it is conference season and I am fried and need a break, I have people around me who need the same.

Now, again, this is good and bad.  If you get into a fight with someone, it's an issue.  If you date someone in your program - rule number one you shouldn't break (take it from me!) - they can choose to be an asshole and air your dirty laundry to the program staff at any minute.  Ask me how I know.  Oh wait, that's because it happened 2 days ago to me.  I also share an office with 15 people.  I love most of them some of the time.  I hate some of them some of the time.  I don't hate or love everyone all of the time.  It's bound to be like that when there are so many type A's in a room.  So, it can be good and bad.

But it's mostly good.  Your family (unless they are academics) won't get you.  Your significant others from non-academic backgrounds will NOT get you.  And they may think what you are doing is a joke because your pay is so little.  But, I can assure you, someone at the office WILL get you.  It may not be everyone all the time and sometimes things are better than others but someone will always get you all of the time.

Have any of your own thoughts?  I know graduate school is no luxurious way to live.  Paycheck-to-paycheck and all.  But it does afford us some luxuries.  It reminds me of a faculty member who compares it to playing ball.  If you do the best you can, you will end up being able to come in and play ball day after day.  It's a dream job and if you work, you can keep it, according to him.


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