Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's Impressive What Grad School Can Do To a Man

Well, the semester is finally over. My first term at Virginia Tech was a fruitful one; I got A's in all my classes—Food Processing, Packaging, and Chemistry (or Food Proc/Pkg/Chem as they became known)—and some of my thesis proposal work out of the way. I won't deny that it's been stressful, more stressful than college ever was. Grad school is a weird world if you pause and think about it for too long. You're given more responsibility than an undergraduate ever was, and in a lot of cases (though not mine, not yet) you're given money as well. Even with that, though, you can't help feeling like undergrads have a bit of a better deal. They're paying to go to school and therefore are seen as a source of revenue. Grad students get paid (at least in most I being a little too obvious here?) and therefore are seen as something of a benign liability by some professors. It boils down to a very feudal perception of things; you're still a serf but with the duties of a noble. (And if you think that academia isn't a society built on classism, even of an artificial nature, then you are what experts call "wrong.")

So I'm pleased with the way the first semester turns out, although I'm a lot more nervous about the next few semesters than I was in college. I've never written a thesis before, and it's frightening, to be honest. I put off doing a thesis in college for an extended research paper due to this same fear of contributing to a body of knowledge. At some level it's probably a fear of rejection, of feeling like I don't know enough or have enough experience to put myself out there. Samuel Johnson summed it up nicely:

"He that writes may be considered as a kind of general challenger, whom every one has a right to attack; since he quits the common rank of life, steps forward beyond the lists, and offers his merit to the public judgement. To commence author is to claim praise, and no man can justly aspire to honour, but at the hazard of disgrace."

It seems that the "aspiration to honor" and the "hazard of disgrace" are the things that are frightening me the most. Here's hoping that the aspiration is warranted and that the hazard never has the oppurtunity to present itself.

But I'm still going to keep repeating: "Only three more semesters..."

(I'm still flying.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not the only one out there who feels those same pressures and uncertainties. I think it is the burden of all graduate students to come that realization at some point and sort of make through and do what is necessary. We are contributing in our small and often silent ways to the fields of knowledge and to our professors so that they can publish. This is the definition of academia and graduate school.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Gryffilion said...

Yes, but there are many times the professoriate does not realize that, in the words of Peter Parker's uncle, "with great power comes great responsibility." Many graduate students are left uncertain because their professors do not address concerns, fears, and other issues confronting them, and are left to muddle it out as best they can. It seems that it would serve both parties well if professors took more time to consider the well-being of the students under them instead of taking them for granted, like Waldoes whose job it is to conduct research.

1:14 AM  

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