Friday, July 27, 2012

My life as a grad student.... pt.1

Annually sounds like the proper frequency with which to publish blog posts, right? Oops, oh well. Derp.

What can I say? The past year has been a clusterfuck and I really don't know what the point of it all has been. I suppose I thought I knew at the onset of it all, but things have cascaded so far out of my control that I feel as though I've just been swept up in a storm of my own creation, gone rogue.

This time, last year, I was eagerly anticipating the beginning of grad school. Stars in my eyes; filled with wonder and peckish enthusiasm. At that time it seemed just one last step toward some grand achievement. The last rung on a ladder toward dreams long left out of reach and unfulfilled. However, my aspirations have always been scatter-brained, at best. And, now, I find myself more lost and confused than I was going into the graduate program.

The grad school recap is as such:
I wanted my Ph.D. Well, I would still like to get it, but now it seems more pointless than anything. Anyway, the goal upon entering grad school was to obtain my Ph.D. and seek work as a professor. It was a bit of a lofty goal, but it was something to work towards.
Everyone I encounter in life seems to have that one specific thing that they are working toward and, if they don't, they have nothing. I know that I have aspirations, that was never the problem. The problem is narrowing down those aspirations to one thing feels limiting and stifling. I feel like picking one thing to do with my life means that I have to abandon anything else that I ever loved.
So, the idea was that I would work toward my Ph.D. and then, once I had done some real work in my field, I would be able to think more clearly about my career options and make better, more informed decisions.
Well, the first problem arose when I didn't get accepted to a Ph.D. program. I did, however, get accepted to a M.A. program, and at this point in time it's become a 'better than nothing' 'beggars can't be choosers' sort of situation. Plus, I was going to get almost all my tuition paid for with a state grant. Even though the situation was not ideal, it was still the best thing I had going for me. I had quit working at Best Buy last May, upon discovering that they were assholes and hearing back on two other opportunities. The first of those "opportunities" never amounted to anything. The second was a position as a Teaching Assistant with the university. So school and T.A.-ing were the only things I had going on for me.... so, I went.
I was to be taking three graduate seminars and teaching three undergraduate discussion sections. I realized the first week of class that I was already in over my head. I dropped one of the seminars - a writing elective, and hit the ground running. Of my two remaining courses I had one that I had chosen out of genuine interest: political theory, and one that was a required course: statistics. Statistics is actually intended to be taken during one's third semester of graduate study, however, the mandatory, first semester course was full. Oh, joy. It begins.
As expected, I loved political theory, but hated statistics. Though I struggled with both. The reading load was intense, at best, and while I'm a moderately fast reader I have trouble retaining information unless I painfully trudge though the material; and painful it was, at times. On top of my own course work, I had T.A.-ing to deal with. This was relatively painless most of the time, but overwhelmingly time consuming. It amounted to showing up at each undergrad lecture, a weekly meeting with the professor, and my own three discussion sessions. I genuinely enjoyed the discussions and the experience of teaching. What I did not enjoy was sitting down to grade 90-ish tests and/or essays when it meant neglecting my own work. But this is what happened, more often than not. The way I saw it was, not only was I being paid to do my job as a T.A., but there were people that were counting on me to do it. And I've always been so dreadfully motivated by the desire to avoid disappointing others. If I neglected to get my own work done, I would be disappointing no one other than myself, and, strangely enough, I know how to cope with that. But if I didn't get my T.A. work done, I would be disappointing a lot of other people, and that I didn't want to deal with. So often I would focus my energies on things that needed done for my students in lieu of the work that would determine my grades.
The entire semester was wrought with stress and disappointment, but I came out of both courses with a 'B' and that's respectable enough.
Second semester, I rethink the T.A. business and decide to take a semester off. I felt as though I had been so busy throughout the entire fall semester that I never really got a chance to adjust to just being a graduate student. By this time, I may be too late. Three courses this semester. Two of which I enjoy immensely, aaaaand.... one mandatory, which I completely bombed. I end up with a 'D' in this course and struggle with the implications of the worst grade I've ever received in my life.
This, accompanied by the fact that I'm no longer receiving a large grant with which I am able to pay 95% of my tuition, causes  me to begin rethinking my course of action.

To be continued....

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