Sunday, November 27, 2005

only happy when it rains

Day 91
27 November 2005

I'm only happy when it rains
I'm only happy when it's complicated
- Garbage, Only Happy When it Rains

Labels are convenient for some things. When I go to the grocery store, for example, I find labels very helpful. I want to know whether I'm looking at a can of navy beans or a can of, say, palm hearts, because the latter will not go well with cassoulet.

In other contexts labels are not as useful. I am no longer labeled Undergraduate; I am now labeled Graduate Student. OK, that's useful for the registrar, but what does that mean to the person wearing the label? What is a grad student like? Is she suddenly, magically more responsible? More mature? Does she dress more professionally? Is she better organized, more likely to be on time than she was a mere six months ago? How long will it take for me to feel like a grad student?

The answer to that last question, in my case, turns out to be "91 days." I have a research project due on Friday which I haven't really started; I'm shopping for a house; I have two part-time jobs, but I'm only getting paid for one of them, and I'm not qualified for either of them; and I have a nasty cold, which has slowed my thought processes to a crawl and made even the simplest of tasks confusing. Now I feel like a grad student. My next question is, how long will it take for me to feel like an adult?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

dinner with faculty

Day 83
19 November 2005

[Ed. note: I've made a policy decision to refer to any and all faculty members referenced on this blog by nicknames. It's not that I'm that familiar with all of them; in person I still call most of them "Dr. So-and-so." However, there are some privacy concerns with using their real names, especially since none of them are aware of this blog and hence are unable to give consent. Also, I'm really excited that I've learned the html tag for italics. That is all.]

Had a progressive dinner with three faculty members and some other grad students on Friday. I love interacting with faculty outside of class time, and the other students were all people I knew (Brook, Kim, Jason) so I had a really good time. Herewith, the gory details:

Salad with the Renaissance Guru (and Mrs. Guru): I hate to sound girly, but my first impression when I walked in the door at the Gurus' house was that I loved the decor. Kind of minimal, very cool wood furniture that I would describe broadly as mission style. Dr. and Mrs. Guru were very conversible, and I felt comfortable with them even though I'd never met them before. The conversation was fun, but the highlight of the proceedings (for me at least) was when Dr. Guru pulled out his (small) collection of rare books and showed us a first edition of John Donne. It was amazing to hold a piece of literary history in my hands. I did not, technically, shed actual tears, but it was close. My excuse is that I'm still pretty hormonal after my last pregnancy.

Dinner with Dr. Victoria, Mr. Victoria, and their three boys under the age of eight: Victoria favored us with alfredo from the Brick Oven. Yum. Mr. Victoria is a curator in Special Collections at the library, so there was some discussion about that. I had no idea that they let undergrads look at Special Collections. Admittedly, I never tried to look at them when I was an undergrad, but that's becuase I just assumed they wouldn't let me. I'm ashamed to say I don't even know where they're located. At some point during the conversation I confessed to liking the way books smell, and was surprised to hear the sentiment echoed by my associates. I still think I'm weird, but it makes me feel better to know that I'm not the only one who's weird in this particular way.

Dessert with the Dr. Modernist, Mrs. Modernist, and their three girls under the age of, um, we'll say ten: there was something faintly bohemian about the fact that the Modernists let their three kids stay up late to hang out with us. I can't imagine that the discussion about tenure, research, etc. was very entertaining for the kids, but they seemed to take it all in stride. Dr. Modernist and his wife regaled us with anecdotes about the years when they were poor grad students living in roach-infested Florida apartments ... and in other news, I have officially crossed Florida off my list of places to go for my PhD. Interestingly, Dr. Modernist seemed to find his PhD much more stressful than working toward tenure. He likened working on a PhD to prostitution - not only do you have to say what they want you to say, you have to pretend you like it. It sounds like he had a worse experience with his PhD than some other people I've talked to, though. At one point his advisor sent him what amounted to a Dear John via email. (They subsequently worked it out.) Modernist and his wife were so convivial that we all ended up staying for a couple of hours. Two very comforting things that I took away from the conversation: 1) you can support a family on an assistant professor's salary; and 2) you can still have a life outside of work even when you're working toward tenure.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

labor disputes

Day 76
12 November 2005

I note with interest a article indicating that the graduate instructors at NYU are on strike. (link expires 12/10/05) Apparently the instructors belong to a union, which NYU had previously recognized, but now declines to recognize, stating that the grad students are not actually employees, but rather are participating in assistantships as part of their financial aid package. The article reports that out of approximately 2700 classes at NYU, 165 are taught by grad students. While on strike, the grad instructors will not be teaching, grading, advising students, or doing research.

I am given to understand that grad instructors are frequently overworked/undercompensated, and are often seen by universities as cheap labor to be exploited as thoroughly as possible. I'm not saying this is right; I'm just saying that in many places it seems to be the status quo. So, did this situation come as a surprise to the NYU students? I mean, did they suddenly get half-way through grad school and one day realize, "Hey, we're being exploited as cheap labor!" I guess I'm just kind of wondering what their expectations were, especially since the article says that their "assistantships" are part of a $50,000 financial aid package that includes free tuition. Admittedly, I have no idea what their actual working conditions are like, but ... fifty thousand dollars worth of financial aid? And they're on strike?

The article also quotes the striking instructors as chanting, "What do we want? Contracts! When do we want it? Now!"

I hope they're not teaching English.