I recently came across an old, harried “Day in the Life of a Grad Student” that I wrote to vent late-night frustrations a couple years ago. It’s somewhat amusing to look back on it from the standpoint of an ABD student in the dissertation writing phase who no longer is teaching. On one hand, some other aspects of my life are much more difficult to accomplish now and perhaps far more worrisome. But, yes, I’m not quite as harried anymore (usually…).
I present a day in the life of a graduate student:
7 – 8AM. Wake up, dress, put on makeup, pack a lunch from the crockpot dinner you made the night before, drive to parking, take bus to history department.
8 – 9:15 AM. Attend advisors undergrad lecture class because it is his last year, and you figure you should sit in on at least one semester of lectures with him before he leaves.
9:15 – 11AM. Buy breakfast and coffee at Starbucks (Thank the coffee gods because 7 am had been too early to contemplate food), review and update class rosters, read student discussion questions and put in useable form. Send out email asking for presenters for the Civil War seminar group, of which you became the co-coordinator of 2 days before and are expected to get a full schedule of event/speakers lined up asap. Write fellow TA asking if she needs a ride to the one- day conference in Richmond we are all required to attend and share Evernote notebooks with each other.
11AM-1PM. Teach 2 classes, 40 students total. Try and fail to convince students to take notes for the student disabilities office. Improve on record from day before and by 3rd class on material, manage to barely get all the way to the 6th of 7 assigned readings (as opposed to only 3 in the first class) that the oh so considerate lecturer assigned. The lecturer obviously overlooked the fact that in a 50 minute class there is no way a TA can do a good job leading a class of 20 students through the specific aspects of each text, compare them to the other texts, and answer additional students questions on texts/lectures in the 7 minute/average I would have to do to get through all 7 assigned readings. Thank you for making me look like an incompetent teacher who can’t manage class time.
1 – 6 PM. Officially, you are holding office hours from 1-3 pm, but since students never come until exam weeks, you get to eat your lunch in peace and take a slight breather watching Youtube videos. (oh well, after that round of classes, your students probably loathe you anyway). You check Facebook and the news and have apoleptic fit over the mess that is American politics. Commiserate with other grad students. Start a rip-roaring Spotify playlist to tackle rest of chores. Receive notice from 2 individuals that they want to present at the Civil War Seminar. Write email to student disabilities office, as the lecturer probably forgot that it was his job to give a copy of the textbooks to them so they can scan them into easily readable versions for disabled students. Investigate 3 academic grant programs. Send out email to 2 members of dissertation committee, asking if you should apply to a large and complicated grant you only received notification of late last week, but which has a deadline next week. Begin writing down ideas for the grant and googling “What to include in a teaching philosophy statement.” Unsubscribe from 5 email listservs cluttering up your inbox. Sign up for you American Historical Association membership and update your member profile in hopes of one day getting a job. Discover that the deadline for panel/paper proposal for next year’s AHA conference is already only 2 weeks away. Means you probably won’t be presenting at the conference at all.
6 –7PM. Talk on phone with sister, who is also a PHD student in another program, pace the halls while doing so in the hopes of getting some slight exercise out of your day. Walk to bus stop, catch bus to car, arrive home 7pm.
7PM – 12:15AM. Discover you left your crockpot full of the food you planned as your dinner out all day, without refrigeration. Curse. Cut up fresh vegetables and add to Top Ramen package with pork goyza dumplings, as you have not gone shopping in over a week and have no other food left. Eat a solo, lonely dinner while watching a Hallmark movie in which EVERYONE ELSE lives happilty ever after, as long as you’re white anyway. Answer emails from a professor wanting to confirm the dates for a visiting scholar to present at the Civil War seminar. Reply in affirmative and ask for her input on how to schedule the other 3 presenters you’ve got on tap from that day. Email one grad student presenter to see how early they can produce a paper. Send out email polling other students about dates they could attend the seminar in first place. Get advice back from professor about scheduling, receive 3 responses from listserv about acceptable dates to hold visiting scholar’s presentation, confirm with grad student presenter that he can have paper ready in 3 weeks – thereby clearing the scheduling crunch. Receive reply from adviser saying that you should go ahead and apply for the huge grant program. Reply and ask for advice on writing a teaching philosophy; receive reply from adviser that he has only ever written one of these in his entire career as this seems to be a new fad, and which he thinks is premature to ask of a person at my stage of career. Helpful. Look at grants from the AHA, decide its not worth the effort of applying for the one small grant you qualify for. Meanwhile, you have also: polished the stove, washed the counters, washed the dishes, taken out the garbage, started the laundry, cleaned the living room, and written your to do list for tomorrow. Exhausted, vent out frustrations in a “day of the life of article”.
1AM. Decide perhaps you should go to sleep. But you are also hungry again, because its been 5 hours since dinner.
Work left undone after 18 hour day: Secured no notetaker. Did not book appointment with student athlete needing assistance. Did not book appointments with members of dissertation committee, and did not submit form to department confirming your dissertation committee members in first place. Did not sort through 1 or more archives for relevant sources for dissertation. Did not start downloading the 200 primary sources you’ve already located for your dissertation. Did not create working outline of dissertation chapters. Did not perform any work for you 2nd job as a graduate intern for a digital humanities agency. Drat, you’d really like the additional cash. Did not go grocery shopping or pay the bills. Did no real exercise.
End result: You worked for 18 hours, and at the end of day have not actually added a single word, thought, or concept to your dissertation, which after all, is supposed to be your NUMBER ONE PRIORITY. In essence, you didn’t get any real or important work done. Laugh hysterically at the thought you could, ever, ever have time to have a well-balanced life that includes physical or mental health. Especially if you ever want tenure. Decide to move to the rainforest.