Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of a Grad Student

Let me start by saying that I am thoroughly delighted to be doing a guest post for Hook & Eye. I am a first year grad student in Concordia's Creative Writing program and am finding the transition from student to teacher quite challenging but thoroughly fascinating. I am exactly where I want to be: I will graduate next year with a Master's in Creative Writing and a written novel, my thesis. I will be twenty-six. I am excited to be approaching a life in the academy and was thrilled when my professor assigned the Hook & Eye blog for our "Pedagogy in and of Canadian Literature" course. As a result of my research over the last month, my rose-tinted glasses have slipped down my nose a little and I have glimpsed the realities that await me as a woman entering the academy. I have been compiling my musings in a blog I created for the project which you are all welcome to read here if you like. For the moment, however, I offer you a glimpse into my life as a first year grad student.

Friday 18th February 2011
I wake to my cellphone's horrifying alarm (the phone vaguely resembles a car and therefore my alarm resembles race track sounds) at 7:00am. I am still riding the high of pride and pleasant surprise from last night. I had a symposium presentation that went very well, a poetry/fiction reading with most of Concordia's English department immediately after that was a total delight and an e-mail from Heather Zwicker in my inbox upon arriving home filled with such lovely compliments that I went to sleep smiling. This morning, it's back to business. I have to write my letter of intent for my TA application, which is due later on today. I've done everything else for it: my letters of reference were sent directly, the English admin takes care of our transcripts and all we have to do is explain why we want to teach, what our areas of interest are, a brief word on any awards, publications or relevant experience we have with teaching, any ideas for classes etc.

Now, I should interject here. No one tells us what precisely the letter should include. I asked my classmates and friends in second year and the answers I received were varied: “it's a formality”, “it's a summary of you”, “it's an advertisement”, “an elaboration on your resume” and so on. Cover letters are bloody hard: I hate promoting myself. It makes me feel sick if I do it in a way that comes off as arrogant or desperate. So, I find that if I can now write a letter of intent without sounding saccharine, self-aggrandizing or cocky, and make it somehow filled with personality instead, then I'm happy, or at least a little more comfortable with it. And I would like to think that is what might get me the grants and jobs that will prove necessary this new academic life of mine: personality and honesty.

I am out of bed by 7:30 and in work-mode by 8:00 with a mug of jasmine green tea and toast at hand. My little downtown apartment is quiet in the mornings and being on the ninth floor means it is flooded with sunlight. I spend twenty minutes responding to e-mails about Headlight, the magazine I am an editor for, about my sister's wedding and about my potential summer job. That done, I open my application Word document and spend the next hour and fifteen minutes letting my tea go cold and the page fill up with my reasons for applying. Influential teachers, my love of communication and creative exploration. It comes slowly.

I would love an extra day or two to work on this. I turned twenty-five on Valentine's Day and the weekend prior was thoroughly unproductive. Today is going to be busy for a Friday; no classes but we have a meeting for the Colloquium I am helping to organize and my boyfriend has to have an X-ray done. I recently started writing what is turning into a novella about voodoo and the secret lives of names and I would love to work on it at some point today, but I am not optimistic. My boyfriend wakes and joins me at 9: 20, makes more tea and struggles with his own application for a while. We eat granola and brood. Neither of us has teaching experience or much that we feel is relevant to a Teaching Assistantship and we contemplate our CVs of summer jobs and slender editing positions. He leaves for his X-ray at 10:00, in pain and annoyed. This has been a year of unprecedented medical drama for us. Long story short: damaged tongue, excruciating sciatica and issues with scoliosis for him while I have been having recurring back and hip issues from the two car accidents I was in a few years ago. I also may or may not have Crohn's Disease. Eight pills a day and more visits to the hospital than I care for, no alcohol or coffee and frequent nausea and pain. Not how I wanted to enter grad school.

While my boyfriend is at the doctor's office I eat a cold slice of vegan pizza from the night before as I complete my application. The pizza is succulent. My application isn't. I'm not thrilled with the results but before I know it, my boyfriend arrives and brings 2:30 with him. I want tea but there isn't time. We head to the Library building and spend the next few hours narrowing the Colloquium abstracts down from thirty-three to eighteen. The program lineup is going to be awesome but many of the choices are brutal and I can't help but notice that things are going to get very busy, very soon. We manage to whittle it down to twenty-one and agree to read them over at home and decide on panels and line-up and such over the weekend. I meet with one of the Colloquium's head organizers after the meeting has adjourned to discuss the poetry/fiction reading that I am co-planning that will be the conference's big finish. I am blown away with how much I am responsible for and I feel a twinge of panic. I add that to-do list to my other ones.

It is 5:30 by the time we get back home, and I'm starving and sleepy. Our applications are in. We make a delicious pesto-pasta-tofu-swiss-chard dish and write for a while, me checking and writing email in regard to my job this summer, both of us picking away at essays-in-progress and drafts of our theses. I have yet to meet with my adviser this semester and I'm worried. I've barely managed to get submissions that I'm not ashamed of in on time for my fiction workshop, much less add to and work on the lone chapter that is my thesis project. Two friends of mine from the CW undergrad have been boasting via Facebook statuses that they're half-way done of their novels so far. Christ. HOW? I close my windows and work for another hour or so.

I have to remind myself that I have written a few stories this year that I'm quite proud of and I've been published in two different Concordia publications. I've celebrated two and a half years with a man that I am more in love with than I ever thought possible, I've got a 3.8 GPA and still manage to see friends and maintain relationships. I'm getting my disease under control. This, I think, is massively important: to put the effort into making a life out of what you love, but also not treating every occurrence of pleasure as an indulgence, something to feel guilty for. For these reasons I let my boyfriend convince me to watch “Back to the Future” instead of delving into my “Reading Week To Do” list that will dominate the upcoming seven class-free days. Life is too short not to cuddle with the man you love and count how many times Michael J. Fox says “That's heavy” or runs his hand through his hair. At 1:15 I curl up with the only book I am reading for pleasure this semester. I started it over Christmas and am only half way through, averaging two or three pages a week, if I'm lucky. I get through two before I feel the book slip through my hands and I give in to the compelling arguments of sleep. My alarm is set for 7:00. I'll tackle those to do lists tomorrow.

Kathryn Pobjoy
Montreal, Quebec

5 comments:

  1. Kathryn, thanks so much for sharing this. Your candor is wonderful. You exude a sense of balance that I find really inspiring. Good luck with those applications! As Aimee writes in today's post, we all have to start somewhere! Gosh, do I remember writing my first TA application... Perhaps you could take a peep at a friend or mentor's application for some guidance?

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  2. What Erin said! :-) Seriously, what I like best about this post is that it reminds me that graduate school is not made up of long contemplation + afternoon walks, but anxiety + appointments.

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  4. This sounds so much more productive than my day.

    Day in the life of a history MA student:

    Woke up around 7 am, pottered about online for a bit. Ate nachos for breakfast because that's what the leftovers in the fridge suggested.

    Started working on things around 8 am. Had boyfriend proofread a paper that I will be presenting shortly. Submitted an abstract for a conference.

    10 am, continued reading the book my advisor just published. It's really fascinating and relevant to my research and it's so good to know what your advisor really does, but if I am honest, I was just procrastinating.

    12:30, nap time

    1:40, wake up and realise naptime was a bad idea, proceed to tell myself that I'm really working on my thesis proposal, whereas I'm actually reading blogs.

    Continue this pattern for several hours, go back to reading book when I realise that I'm lying to myself.

    8 pm, get back on laptop and post on Hook & Eye.

    Hopefully I'll make some more progress on the thesis proposal tonight...

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  5. Erin and Heather: thank you! And thank you again for giving me the opportunity to share my day on your blog. Indeed, much of my time is spent stressing about deadlines and applications, but there is much more of it devoted to intellectual discussion with my peers than was in my undergrad. I am lucky enough to have friends and classmates who, by this point, want to talk about heavy topics like Lacan's psychoanalysis or the functionality of anarcho-capitalist societies over beer in lieu of the latest shenanigans on "The Jersey Shore" or the results of American Idol. I get as much of of my interactions with them as I do in the classroom, which I find exciting and inspiring.
    And Arianna, regardless of how productive it might be (and really, isn't productivity subjective?) your day sounds kind of awesome.

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