I don’t think I talk enough about grad school on this blog. I mean, were you to just be perusing innocently through ye old archives, you would most likely think that I just live a life of excessive brunching, going on walks with the hubs, and pining for donuts. Otherwise known as “how female bloggers make the world look.” But the truth is that I actually spend most of my days turning my brain into a PhD and turning my students’ brains into wrinkly masses of French knowledge, or so I desperately hope. I spend most of my days reading books replete with death and prostitutes, grading student work, and trying to make the difference between the imparfait and the passé composé exciting. That last one is obviously accomplished through a song, and thank you former high school students for teaching me that. The apathetic undergrads I force to sing it thank you slightly less.
Lately I was thinking about the differences between college and grad school, between school as your life and life facilitate by your schooling. This realization came about when I was exhausted from my weekend so I just decided to sleep in till 10:30 on a Tuesday morning to be rested for my week. [If you are a parent with babies, I invite you to stop and yell soft expletives at the screen because I know that this is a childless luxury. But you do get to have soft squishy babies to squeeze and that is pretty awesome as well.] I woke up and one of my first thoughts was, This is how grad school is different than college.
Before I even go on, I should add that by “college” I am mostly talking about my college experience at a small liberal arts college, otherwise known as 4-year camp with harsh grades. It is its own world at these colleges, an all-consuming, friend-filled world of professor devotion, campus pranks, and utmost loyalty. I loved this world and I still think very fondly on it and all that it gave me.
In college, you have few responsibilities beyond yourself. Yes, you have a massive amount of work to do, and yes, you have all the other tasks that extracurricular fervor makes you do, but you typically don’t have to question where your food and shelter are coming from. The cafeteria and your dorm exist to suspend you in something not quite like childhood, but not yet adulthood. You often don’t clean for indeterminate amounts of time and if you pull three all-nighters in a row, you crash and burn like a solo ship in the sea. You pack every minute with tasks, scheduling meetings for obscene times like 10:25 pm, and sometimes you fall asleep at the library because you are so overwhelmed. Everyone, at every small college, in every major, is busy and stressed. And with good reason. Your life is ruled by deadlines and commitments, grades and transcripts, acceptance into societies or groups and letters of recommendation. After four years you heave a huge sigh of relief that it is over and then promptly grow depressed and nostalgic for college and all that it was.
In grad school, pretty much none of that is true. Are there grades? I think so… kind of. I have a massive pile of work and information to accumulate, but the deadlines are few and long and nebulous. Things like “I need to write a dissertation in the next 2-4 years” or “I will be tested on this massive comprehensive list of books come springtime so I should start reading.” I read and write more than I could have even imagined during college, but it is more concentrated in one discipline. No one expects me to spend my semester on Shakespeare and WWII and Political Economy with a side of bowling. There are no extracurricular activities taking up your time and constituting a love-hate relationship in your life. Some poor representative from a grad student union keeps on coming to our office to try to get us to care/ join and we always try to find polite ways of sharing the truth which is: “Nothing you do or say can make me add some non-essential commitment to my life. End of discussion. Unless this includes free meals, and then by all means continue.” Because free meals becomes the quest of much of your energy. This isn’t college, which means grad school has to share mental space with rent payments, grocery shopping, waiting in line at the DMV, chores, and the myriad other things that make up Adult Life Time Fillers. Your responsibility isn’t just to your student self, but also to your students. I am painfully aware that I teach students who have sacrificed to be here, who are taking out loans and working, and who will spend years paying that off. If I show up to work exhausted from two all-nighters, I waste their money and their time. But then again, nothing on this planet could make me pull an all-nighter in grad school. Nope. Not happening. I would just instead look at my long yawning deadlines and work in nap time.
Because this is grad school, not college. The responsibilities are greater, but the stress is less concentrated. It is way less fun, but you sleep so much more. I’d say it is a fair trade-off.
Any other grad students out there? Or any college students who feel I have grossly misrepresented you?