Grad School Is Weird
Grad school is weird. This might not be shocking information to most people. I guess it wasn’t to me, either. In the same way that I knew undergrad would probably not involve me discussing philosophy and literature in the sunshine out on the quad (my school didn’t even have quads) with other dashing young students, I knew that grad school would not be a never-ending buffet of intellectual joy and late-night library camaraderie with fellow scholars.
But like, damn.
I chose to study religion because I think it’s infinitely fascinating, and there are definitely times when I’m talking to someone about the evolution of Mormon concepts of sartorial modesty or arguing with a classmate about the Shakers, and I feel enthused about my choice to fork over a frankly absurd amount of money for the privilege of reading three books a week and writing constantly in an effort to hopefully, someday, maybe obtain a degree that probably won’t even get me a job until I get another degree on top of that. But a lot of my time is spent reading, or emerging furtively from my room to make a burrito, or drinking tea, or reading, or being mad at undergrads for being happy where I can see them, or glaring at an uncooperative essay on my laptop alone in the library, or reading. Did I mention the reading? There’s so much reading, and I say this as someone whose parents used to take away her book so she would go do something outside.
I can easily go days without talking to another grad student, as my colleagues have elevated being busy to an art form. So many of them have kids, work full-time, commute from another city, or exist in some gruesome arrangement of all three. Even those who, like me, don’t fall into any of these categories are franticly finishing something for class or working on a conference proposal or trying to make some headway on their dissertation. All of these things mean that there’s not a lot of sitting around and shooting the breeze. Honestly, some of them are people I wouldn’t want to hang out with anyway, like the woman who followed me into the parking lot last week to let me know that she thought I had been rude during our class discussion, or the guy who called himself a “secular queer radical male feminist” (bro, I don’t think “radical feminist” means what you think it means).
During orientation, a school administrator told us “As grad students, we believe that you really are adults, and we treat you like it.” In action, this seems to translate to “we’re not going to tell you about what you need to do or when you need to do it, we can change anything at any time, and if you ask us about it we’ll be really annoyed.” After telling me not to worry and that everything was set for the semester when I called a few days before, my department changed the amount of financial aid I was being given a week before tuition was due without anyone informing me. After being told numerous times that I couldn’t register for classes until I’d met with my advisor, my advisor, during our first meeting, demanded to know why I hadn’t registered for classes yet.
At least once a week I have an acute moment of wondering what on earth I’m doing here and calculating the interest on my student loans in a panic-stricken fit of fiscal responsibility. I miss my cousins terribly. I am sure that my grandparents will eventually ask me to stop calling them three times a week and asking what the weather’s like back home. My siblings are supremely uninterested in texting me back, because they are teenagers and have much more interesting things to do (and is there anything less cool than your weird older sister in grad school texting to ask you how your swim meet was?).
But despite all of that, there’s a reason I’m here. I’m never not reading, but it’s something I would be reading of my own accord even if it wasn’t assigned. Even if I sometimes think my classmates are jerks, they’re jerks who want to talk about 18th century Moravian theology. It’s weird being so far from home, but I’m far from home to do something I’m genuinely excited about. Did I mention the reading? I really do like the reading. And so, between everything else, I find myself living for the brief moments where everything seems so incredibly right that thinking “maybe I shouldn’t have gone to grad school” seems downright blasphemous.
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Alex is a lesbian Jack Mormon feminist from Utah going to school in California. She has a BA in Anthropology and is currently pursuing her MA in Women’s Studies in Religion. Her research focus is Mormon women’s auxiliary organizations and concepts of women’s modesty in religion. She likes nail polish, fanfic, feminist theology, and tea.