Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's back to school we go

I have become what I have beheld and am content that I have done right.

Yes, I am now that scary advanced graduate student that no one wants to talk to. Last week, I began my sixth year of school here. Sixth. Our department's recruiting materials gaily indicate that most students take between four and five years to finish, depending on a student's previous coursework, wink wink, nudge nudge. In fact, during my now-considerable tenure, I have seen exactly three students finish in less than five years; one student that was a seventh-year when I came is still officially in the program.

Clearly, our department doesn't put a premium on efficiently graduating students, but it's a bit of a dirty little secret. Typically, when students get far enough along that they've lost their funding, they get jobs and only work on their dissertations part-time. They're not around the department much; they lose their office space; people forget that they're still in the program. They may not have degrees, but at least they're not flaunting that by being visible. I'm a little different. Rocco's daycare is right by school, so I spend all of my working time in the department, and I'm not easy to ignore. (Perhaps it's because of the red boa I wear whenever I'm feeling particularly brilliant and productive.)

Last week, our new students began orientation and it quickly became clear that I was like some sort of first-year-eating virus. It was a similar feeling to when I'd walk around the undergraduate section of campus pregnant: everyone avoids eye contact, just in case your "condition" rubs off on them. I'm okay with that, though. The new students will spend the next few weeks dancing around each other, figuring out who will study together, who will drink together, who will spend more time with her dog or fiance than with her fellow-student cohort. These negotiations will feel weighty and consequential. I won't miss that. I'll be the old one, eating lunch with the assistant professors and staring at WonderGirl's artwork at my desk when I'm thinking or in need of inspiration.

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