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Posts Tagged ‘student life’

Last night I had a birthday party at Sylvia’s Also Lounge. It was great time! Lot of Milano folks came through. People had a blast. As a matter of fact most of the people there were from Milano. I thought to myself “if I’m from New York, how is it that most of my guests are people from school?” And then I realized that I’ve spent a better part of the past year and a half with Milano classmates. Most of my time is spent either at school or doing school work in some fashion. It naturally make sense that if I spend most of my time with Milano peeps, that most of my party would be Milano peeps.

Grad school is an intense period. You go hard for one, two, or three years (depending on your program and status) and then you shoot off into the job market (or go for another degree). The intensity is a form a pressure that creates bonds between you and people you might never have become friends with under different circumstances. The many hours spent doing group projects, the late night study sessions, the mutual griping over this class or that professor – these things build relationships. My Milano classmates are, in a real sense, my Milano family.

The inevitable sling shot into job market is only a few weeks away for my cohort. Some people will stay in New York (yay!), others will go off to other places (boo!). Never again will we find ourselves coalescing at the study center, or 72 Fifth Ave. (affectionately known as the Milano building). Sure there will be happy hours, unofficial reunions, random run-ins and Facebook, but the cap is about to be placed on the bottle that holds the lightning of our grad school experience.

For each of us there will be new memories, new experiences, new adventures ahead. New reasons to smile, new people to accept into each of our families, whether personal, professional, or academic.

But for now, the lightning still strikes, and I intend to enjoy its light.

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Do you ever see yourself as the fantasy graduate student? You know, the grad student who focuses intently on school, has it all together, has a job or some other activity outside of school, a robust personal life, and still finds time to volunteer for worthy causes on the side. The fantasy grad student sees obstacles as steps in the staircase to success. Each challenge raises the fantasy grad student higher and brings her/him closer to success.

The fantasy grad student indeed has a robust personal life, but only one that supports academic endeavors. Anything outside of the classroom that does not complement academic/professional achievement simply does not exist.

It’s easy to try to fit the fantasy grad student mold. I mean, isn’t that what we aspire to be? Isn’t that how we see our classmates? “Wow, they really have it all together” we say to ourselves.

But we are not fantasy grad students. None of us are.

We are real people. All of us are.

We have obstacles, pains, and even personal lives that are not always 100% conducive to academic/professional success. In fact, some of us have personal lives that are downright obstacles themselves, and every day that we make it to class, that we hand in an assignment however crappy, that we register for those next set of credits is a personal victory.

Despite outward appearances, many of us don’t have it all together. For some of us, this isn’t the first attempt at getting a grad degree. It’s the second.

Or the third.

Or more.

Yet we press on, grasping at the image of the fantasy grad student, hoping and believing that this semester will be the one when I get it right. This will be the semester that I submit my papers on time. This will be the semester that I’ll get the grades to justify my loans. This will be the semester that I don’t end up dropping a class. Or two.

For some of us, “this semester” is the one we say we’ll get through without the help from Mr. Jack Daniels or Ms. Mary Jane. “This semester” is the one where we finally don’t let problems with our boyfriend/girlfriend prevent us from focusing. “This semester” is the one where we’ll learn to sleep without having that same nightmare from whatever happened years ago. “This semester” is the one in which we’ll get it together.

But what do we do when “this semester” doesn’t work out like we hoped? What do we do when “this semester” feels a lot like last semester? And the semester before that? And the one before that?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that none of us – not one single person in any grad program in the universe – is a fantasy grad student. All of us have stories, stuff we’re going through, coming out of, or are about to go through. All of us have personal lives that can sometimes make our studies difficult. We’re real, whole, people. We’re more than the sum total of our GPA, our classes, our internships and jobs.

Whatever you may be going through now, just coming out of, or about to go through, just do your best. Never give up. Ask for help when you need it (it’s NOT a sign of weakness!), and breathe.

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I’m sitting in the New School Study Center, which is currently occupied by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The building was taken last Thursday and has since become a home base for the All-City Student General Assembly.

It’s quite an interesting scene. I wonder how many people here are New School students vs. students from other universities vs. non-students. I’d love to give all of the details of what I see right now but I’m not sure if that would violate some some of social compact that is going on here. Journalists are not being allowed upstairs and I by no means am no journalist, but I’m sure there’s a reason for the limited info. No video or photo are allowed either. I’m sure someone else is blogging all the details, I haven’t been reading any blogs covering #ows. Really I’m just a grad student that wants to know what’s going on with my study space.

Thus, I have some mixed feelings about this whole situation. On the one hand, I wholeheartedly support the movement in its calling out of gross inequality and the unjust economic system that we have that values profits over people. The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken the national political debate from budget cuts to issues of inequality.

At the same time, the study center is relatively new, and I’m a paying student. I get upset when I see people leave crumbs on the tables in the study rooms, much less people turning this into a full-time base of operations. I must admit that it’s a lot cleaner up here than I expected to find it. That being said, the walls seem to be nothing more than a giant canvas. I’m not happy about that because that’s just disrespectful. Taping posters is one thing, painting is another, and just scrawling phrases is something else entirely. I wonder who will have to clean up when this is all done.

Part of me thinks some of the wall writing should be left for posterity. After all, this is the New School, isn’t it?

There is something that I don’t get about this current occupation: the point. It seems that there are different people with different agendas united by a general dissatisfaction with the way things are. Some of the arguments seem a bit misguided. I would love lower tuition (one of the calls here), but there the economics of running an institution. I suspect there is an alternative plan for funding universities, but saying “don’t pay tuition” is not a solid plan in my view.

I recognize that some of my thoughts are not in line with some of my fellow class mates, and that’s okay. We’re all better off with a diversity of view points.

As for me, I need to go #occupy this case study for elements of finance.

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Flicker…flicker flicker. Blink.

That’s me. I don’t know if it’s a rough spot in the semester or what, but I feel like I’m burning out. This finance class (elements of finance) has really gotten to me and I want to just throw my hands up and say “I’m done.” Work is very interesting and part-time, but just because I’m not on the clock doesn’t mean there isn’ t stuff that needs to get done. Throw the TA gig on top of that, my other courses, Toastmasters, and oh yeah, my personal life. Let’s sprinkle in the search for a PDR client and the ever-encroaching employment search and we’ve got ourselves a full pot of stew!

Of course, this is the situation that I’ve chosen. I realize that. No one made me take a job, apply to be a TA, take the courses I’m taking, or go to grad school at all. Seems weird to vent/complain/stress about a situation of my own choosing. But then again most of our situations in life are of our own choosing. That’s a larger conversation so we’ll leave that point for another time. But back to grad school blues…

I think that being in the third semester of a four-semester (full-time) program probably brings a certain stress, and next semester I’m sure will bring a whole other set of stress. I just registered for spring classes today so that probably adds to the mix. As I move through this semester I’ve begun to reflect on my academic experience. It’s probably somewhat premature to do a postmortem since I’m not even 75% through the program, but at this point my classes are decided for the most part. There’s no more “ooh maybe I’ll take that class.” And since my classes are pretty set at this point, it’s easy to begin thinking about what kind of skills I’m going to graduate with. Also, for the PDR, we’re supposed to use the skills we’ve gained at Milano to produce this professional report.

At this point I’m not sure I’ve taken the right courses. I mean I’ve taken the courses that meet graduation requirments, that’s not the issue. My question is whether my course work reflects my true desires of what I want to do with my life. The reality is that choosing classes to set up your career can be much more difficult than one might think. Everyone comes to grad school with certain dreams and desires. As you gain experience and skills your original dreams and desires might change, but you don’t get more electives to balance it out. Then you start thinking about classes that you took (or are taking currently) that maybe you weren’t/aren’t really into and you question it. Then the program might offer some brand new elective that wasn’t available when you came in, and you have to figure out if you can use your precious remaining credits on it – and if it meets your interests better than the course track you’ve already planned out during previous semesters. Just to spice it up, there may be a tension between getting tools (hard skills courses like finance) to courses that are just interesting but don’t necessarily provide you with a marketable skill (other than reading and writing). So in a way the academic experience is a negotiation between past, present, and future selves.

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Rust

When I entered grad school a year ago, I was energized, motivated, and ready to go. I had a set of goals for the semester as well as a set of goals for the program overall. I came in like gangbusters and I went hard. I mean I went H.A.A.M. on that first semester. I was studying until all hours of the morning, really putting the work and the effort.

What a difference a year makes. As we settle into semester and I’m taking one of most challenging courses I’ve taken since perhaps the logic course I took in undergrad (shoutout to Prof. Stiv Fleishman), I can’t seem to get the mojo back. The same fire and desire I had when I entered isn’t there anymore. Am I looking too much at graduating in May? Is it possible to have senioritis in a two-year program? Maybe I’m just rusty. I didn’t take any summer classes so maybe that’s it. Maybe my personal priorities have changed. There have been some major developments on the home front that could be distracting me. That’s part of it, definitely, but I’ve been talking to other classmates and some of them are experiencing the same thing. Some people have just “hit a wall.” But how do you hit a wall in a two-year program?

I can pontificate about the why and wherefores all night, but the reality is that there needs to be a gearshift – like yesterday. It’s the fourth week of the semester and things move fast in grad school. If you get buried early, it’s really hard to get out.

One thing I’ve noticed about the start of the second year is that people don’t congregate in common areas as much as they used to. It’s kind of like in college where everyone is friendly freshman year because they want to make friends, but by senior year everyone has their friends/cliques/crews, etc. Only in grad school it’s really, really condensed. As a side note, that would make an interesting anthropological study, on the social habits of students in higher education as they move through their program.

I wonder how many of my colleagues are experiencing the same thing. I’ve only talked to a few people so it’s not necessarily a representative sample. Of course, if more of us congregated like we used to we could actually have this conversation (that’s a tongue in cheek joke).

If anyone knows of any applicable anthropological studies, please let me know.

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We’ve just closed out the first full month of the semester, yet it already feels like we’re two months in. Exams and briefings are coming up, and the last vestiges of rust from the long winter break should be shaken off by now.  Today is a holiday, but that’s only in the technical sense. Holidays are like weekends in grad school: you don’t have any classes, but that’s just an opportunity for your study group to meet.

My  lab group spent several hours discussing our policy issue on Sunday, drawing a complicated flowchart all over the blackboard in a classroom we commandeered.  We even had colored chalk, which was quite exciting (yes, colored chalk will excite you in grad school).  Today and tomorrow we’ll be at it again, and I anticipate another  set of marathon meetings.

When you’re in the thick of things, sometimes it’s good to take a moment to relax or do something enjoyable.  On Saturday evening I was convinced to procrastinate my quantitative methods studies and instead hang out and watch the NBA All-Start activities.  Although procrastination is not a good thing generally, I think it was a good decision to chill.  I had a great time with a good group of guys, talking laughing, eating pizza, and watching basketball.  Saturday evening reminded me that it’s important to maintain human contact that doesn’t involvement policy analysis.

With the aforementioned briefings and exams coming up, I don’t expect to have many more opportunities to hang out.  I do expect, however, to spend a lot of “quality time” with my lab group. Between the policy lab and quantitative methods (and the demands of grad school in general) I expected to be extremely busy this semester. I also hope to find some quality time to relax and keep perspective.

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The Whole Picture

I had the privilege of participating in a speech evaluation contest last tonight, hosted by The New Voice, the New School’s chapter of Toastmasters International. It was a great experience, and I plan to continue my involvement with the New Voice. Yes I have plenty of work to do as a full-time student – especially with the policy lab – but attending Toastmasters is important too.  See, to me graduate school is about than just getting a piece of paper to bolster one’s credentials.  It’s about more than taking certain classes to broaden your skills, or networking to boost your career potential.  Graduate school is about the whole picture.  With a wealth of extracurricular activities available, graduate school has so much more to offer than just school.

Now I know this isn’t undergrad.  A person doesn’t come to grad school to join a bunch of clubs and go on field trips – you come to get a professional degree.  But the opportunities here can really aid one’s growth both professionally and personally. Almost every week there is an exciting panel discussion or lecture or some other event going on that I’d love to attend.  And one of my goals as a graduate student is to get to as many of them as I can.  That’s why I chose to back go to school full-time, because I want to get the full experience.  I want to debate and discuss with classmates.  I want to hear from noted experts and come away with a new point of view or insight.  I want to grow and challenge myself in ways that I might not be able to if I was working full-time.

As any part-time or otherwise working student can tell you, what I desire is somewhat of a luxury.  Not everyone has the liberty to be a full-time student.  Even as a full-time student, I’m not able to get to as many events as I’d like due to all of the schoolwork on my plate.  Academic success is certainly the first priority of my grad school endeavors, but what a shame it would be if I didn’t take advantage of everything being a student has to offer (such as writing on this blog!).  After all, you never know when the next lecture, activity, or event you attend will provide you with your next professional contact.  Like anything in life, grad school can be what you make it.  I definitely recommend getting the whole picture.

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